Members of the Wawasee Area Conservancy Foundation, and others interested in the impact factory farms have on communities and the local watershed, spent most of the day Saturday listening to statistics and discussing strategies for minimizing the effects of such operations.
Amelia Vohs, legal and water policy associate for the Hoosier Environmental Council, and Kim Ferraro, HEC staff attorney and director of water policy, travel the state to present “Community Assistance for Sustainable Livestock Farming,” a project of the HEC designed to address concerns about large, industrial livestock operations.
Such operations are often regulated by the federal government or the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, according to size, they told the audience at the Levinson-LaBrosse Lakes and Wetlands Education Center, Syracuse. However, loopholes allow others to go unregulated.
A confined feeding operation, or CFO, may raise and process hundreds of cows, chickens, turkeys, pigs or other animals. A confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO, is an even larger version of the CFO.
About 3,000 livestock operations of one size or the other currently operate in the state of Indiana.
Kosciusko County is home to about 75 CFOs and CAFOs of primarily pullets and ducks — the fifth largest overall concentration in the state. The county is first, however, in the number of pullet and ducks operations and second for layer chickens.
Humans in Kosciusko County generate 22 million pounds of waste per year. Local animals generate 6.5 times that amount. The concern is that this waste, which can include E. coli, nitrates and antibiotics, winds up in local waterways or in factory farm lagoons that can leak or leech.
Ferraro recommended that concerned residents work to reduce local demand for the products by large operations. Opting for food that is locally-grown, sustainable, humane and organic employs more small farmers, results in better care for the animals, spreads the animal waste around instead of concentrating it at one location, is healthier for the consumer and keeps consumers’ money local, she said. “It’s not a hippie idea. This is a model that was thriving just 100 years ago … and sustainable farms are diversified, which means they have less impact on natural systems.” Local laws and policies can encourage a “buy-local” mind set, she added.
Columbus, Ind., attorney David Brinley shared with attendees his experience in legally opposing a proposed CFO in his area. Responding to public input opportunities and keeping tabs on the progress of both IDEM permitting and local permitting of the facility simultaneously is key, he discovered. He noted that legislators and lobbyists are sometimes heavily funded by big agriculture, though, making them reluctant to clarify statute definitions that would provide additional community input into CFO locations and operations.
“IDEM says basically that if they meet the minimum requirements then they’re going to get the permit,” Bilcher admitted. Intense public and legal pressure eventually prevailed in his situation, however. “At the end of the day, you can fight them.” “It can be hard, but it can be done if you know the system.” Ferraro concurred.
Modern agriculture technologies also provide options that can make CFOs and CAFOs good neighbors, Ferraro also pointed out. By increasing the minimum required setback for farming operations, requiring knife injection of manure, constructing anaerobic digesters an using biofilters are just some of the ways that CFO/CAFO animal waste can be controlled.