Don't Let Conservation Buy The Farm

Submitted by tnjp on May 21, 2007 - 9:13pm.

Action Alert: Don't Let Conservation Buy The Farm
I have a not-very-taxing question for all you tax payers out there:

Would you like to see your hard-earned dollars used to conserve precious wetlands and vital habitats, or would you prefer to see that money used to build football field-sized pools of pigshit generated by industrial pork producers?...

The "manure lagoons" that surround Smithfield slaughterhouses like methane-filled moats emit a deadly and brain-damaging gas called hydrogen sulfide, so for the people who live downwind from them the question is, presumably, a no-brainer.

But what about the 90% of Americans who don't live on or near a farm? Would we rather see our agricultural policies promote conservation, or help fund factory farm cesspools that spew lethal levels of contaminants into air, soil and water with that legendary agribiz efficiency?

Congressman Collin Peterson, Democrat from Minnesota and Chairman of the House Agriculture Subcommittee, thinks we'd rather put our money into pollution than preservation.

So he's submitted a 2007 Farm Bill Proposal that would take funds away from the conservation programs that provide, among other things, aid to sustainable and organic farms, and use it instead to help corporate owned CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) offset the cost of creating more manure lagoons.

I know, I know, you're thinking, sheesh, like Smithfield needs a handout?

But, actually, it turns out that they do, because, as Jeff Teitz noted in a scathing expose for Rolling Stone about Smithfield's execrable handling of its excrement, "There simply is no regulatory solution to the millions of tons of searingly fetid, toxic effluvium that industrial hog farms discharge and aerosolize on a daily basis. Smithfield alone has sixteen operations in twelve states. Fixing the problem completely would bankrupt the company."

And that's the largest, most profitable pork producer in the world we're talking about. You would think they could afford to deal responsibly with the vast pits of toxic waste that are a by-product of industrial pork production methods. But you'd be wrong, according to Tietz:

Hogs produce three times more excrement than human beings do. The 500,000 pigs at a single Smithfield subsidiary in Utah generate more fecal matter each year than the 1.5 million inhabitants of Manhattan. The best estimates put Smithfield's total waste discharge at 26 million tons a year. That would fill four Yankee Stadiums. Even when divided among the many small pig production units that surround the company's slaughterhouses, that is not a containable amount.

Smithfield estimates that its total sales will reach $11.4 billion this year. So prodigious is its fecal waste, however, that if the company treated its effluvia as big-city governments do -- even if it came marginally close to that standard -- it would lose money.

So obviously Smithfield needs a hand from Uncle Sam.

But what about all those forward-thinking farmers looking to be better stewards of the land? Don't they need assistance, too?

"In 2004, three out of every four farmers and ranchers applying to participate in Farm Bill conservation programs were rejected due to lack of funds," as Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, told Dan Imhoff, author of Food Fight, the delightfully digestible, if disturbing, guide to the Farm Bill that's chock full of shocking charts and statistics. Read it or you'll get no dessert. Or should I say, if you don't read it, and don't lobby your legislators to better this bill, you'll get your just desserts.

Notes Imhoff, "In dollar terms, eight and a half out of every ten dollars requested were denied due to the funding shortfall. In fact, the 2004 backlog for conservation dollars exceeds the total funding available in 2005 by a three-to-one margin."

Despite being chronically underfunded, the Farm Bill's conservation programs have managed to restore nearly two million acres of wetlands and reverse the decline of waterfowl whose habitat gets destroyed when farmers drain wetlands to plant commodity crops.

More farmers clamor every year to board the sustainability bandwagon, but Congressman Peterson's decided we can't give them a lift. His proposal guts the Conservation Security Program and shifts those funds to the already amply funded Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which goes in part to help defray the costs incurred by CAFOs.

The House Agriculture Subcommittee's set to vote on Congressman Peterson's proposal this coming Tuesday, March 22nd.

So if you'd like to see your tax dollars help underwrite the costs of more disease and death caused by CAFO-contaminated waterways, air, and soil; antibiotics rendered less effective in people by their overuse in chronically sick livestock made ill by horrendous living conditions; the millions of fish killed every time the manure lagoons burst and spill tons of toxic manure into our rivers (which they do regularly, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council); and millions more fish who die because of oxygen-gobbling "dead zones" that spread algae blooms thousands of miles along our coasts, fed by nutrients in animal waste, well, then, just sit back and let congress take its course.

If, like me, you think it makes more sense to encourage sustainable farming and conservation instead of funding more factory farms, you have just one day--tomorrow, May 21st--to ask your representative to, you know, represent you.

Kerry Trueman blogs about sustainable agriculture, progressive politics, and a less consumption driven way of life for Eating Liberally and Huffington Post. This is part of Farm Bill blogging.

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