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The Best Available Technology ...

is more family farmers producing hogs in
an economically, environmentally, and socially viable manner

by Rhonda Perry,
St. Joseph, Missouri

In order to make the assumption that CAFOs are the result of successful technology to achieve affordable, readily available animal protein we must first determine that tomorrow's problems are not simply being packaged as today's solutions. We have to consider the efficiency of corporate hog production because CAFOs are the key way in which these technologies are implemented by corporations.

At least one hog corporation in Missouri never made a profit since its inception -- it's lost millions of dollars every year. It's a far stretch of the imagination to call that efficiency. We haven't been able to locate a single hog farmer who could afford to be that inefficient. Because it's not about efficiency -- it's about huge amounts of capital and control of the market.

There is a serious lack of evidence to show that CAFOs are the most efficient producers of readily available meat.

In fact in 1970 Missouri marketed thousands more hogs than we did in 1996. We did it with 54,000 hog farms spread across the state. As of 1997 we have 5500 hog operations.

There were some things we were missing out on with those 54,000 hog farmers. We didn't have communities springing up in opposition all over the state. We didn't have the legislature or the DNR trying to figure how to deal with the enormous amount of waste concentrated in a small area. We didn't have taxpayer funded research trying to make pig poop smell good.

What we did have was 54,000 hog farmers purchasing inputs and supplies locally -- spreading both their manure and economic benefits throughout the state instead of concentrated in one area. There is significant evidence that family farmers are more efficient producers of pork. Studies from Missouri, North Carolina, Virginia, and Iowa have shown very similar evidence of this. Most economists agree that 150 sows is the point at which most economies of scale are achieved. The most recent Iowa study shows that in a comparison of equal production, family farmers with 150 sows versus one large one with 3400 sows, the smaller operations create 34% more jobs and 23% more employment income. Additional farmers raising pigs are more beneficial than the number of pigs. The biggest bang for our buck is with more instead of fewer hog operations.

In order to look at CAFOs as the secret of successful technology -- we must look not at how many jobs are created but at net job creation -- how many jobs are displaced versus created by the industry.

A University of Missouri study shows that for every corporate contract job created, three jobs are lost in livestock production. So we're real glad that Princeton thinks there is an economic boom, but economic heaven in one small area means economic hell for hog producers and the businesses that rely on them in the rest of the state and region. Missouri has lost almost half of our hog producers since 1994, so a few towns get some jobs while other similar-size towns built around family farms lose out.

If corporate hog production was in fact the result of successful technology to provide readily available meat supplies, we as taxpayers should be real happy. Because this year we had so much corporate expansion created "readily available pork'' that we just spent $30 million in taxpayer dollars to bail out the pork industry from a self-induced overproduction crisis. Corporations, and industry groups said we need corporate production in order to feed the world --- expand, expand, expand. These same groups then looked to the government for a bail-out.

Some say "great.'' This should mean cheap pork for consumers, but we pay a high price for this potential "cheap meat'' in the form of bail-outs, taxpayer-funded job training programs, enterprise zone tax breaks, export subsidies and research.

Once markets are completely vertically integrated and controlled by a few corporations, prices won't be based on supply and demand but a corporate demand.

A side note: Corporations in this industry have been especially chameleon-like in that one day they are a corporation in order to get these subsidies. The next day they're farmers to avoid regulations that all other industries must abide by.

The debate about whether CAFOs are the result of successful technology is in the question of who is determining the best available technology. Because until recently no federal or other agency had taken real responsibility for this determination, we had to rely on the industry itself. Less than 10 years ago, corporations stated as fact that liquid manure lagoons and aerial spraying were high tech. The industry insisted and many land grants swore to it and boom...It must be true -- "lagoons are absolutely environmentally sound and by the way they won't leak for at least 286 years.'' Of course some of us questioned whether or not digging a hole in the ground and filling it up with 25 million gallons of hog manure was high tech.

So what happened in the last 10 years? Minnesota Pollution Control Agency determined that lagoons leaked 500 gallons per acre per day. Corporate hog operations in Missouri using this state-of-the-art technology created more environmental degradation in fish kills than all of agriculture put together in the previous decade. Last year we learned that the University of Missouri provided 20-year-old data which was being used to determine waste application rates. Lo and behold, it turned out that CAFOs were spreading up to three times too much waste on the land, creating the real potential for polluted runoff. In the last year, the industry itself has realized that you can't fool all the people all the time and have decided that lagoons may not be the best technology after all. The "new'' best technology is underground pits and slurry storage silos. Can we afford to accept unquestioningly the industry's claims with their track record over the last decade?

Maybe the best available technology is more family farmers producing hogs in an economically, environmentally, and socially viable manner.

Rhonda Perry is the program director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. This speech was given by Rhonda Perry at the Missouri Western State College, St. Joseph, Missouri, April 22, 1998

Published in In Motion Magazine May 11, 1998.