Thursday, March 25


This will come as no surprise to anyone reading this blog, but large hog farms are, simply put, hell on earth.

    The odor knocks visitors off balance the moment they walk in the battered front door of HKY Farm. It's not so much a barnyard smell as a noxious combination of manure, ammonia and death that intensifies as one moves toward the barns. Next comes the sound of dozens of sows screaming and thrashing at their cages at the arrival of visitors and the prospect of food, a noise so loud and unsettling that a farm manager puts on ear plugs as he enters.

    Inside, HKY Farm looks like a third world prison for pigs. Dozens of dead piglets are dumped in piles or encased in pools of manure beneath the floor, having drowned there after falling through a hole. Dead hogs remain in their cages, discarded and stiff in walkways or rotting in pens as other pigs gnaw at their carcasses. Many of the 1,800 or so pigs that are alive are emaciated, crippled or covered with open sores, having been poked by jagged iron bars from broken cages or fallen through slats that separate them from the manure pits below. The nursery, heated to protect the piglets, is swarming with flies, and the "sterile room" where food and medicine are stored includes yet another pile of dead pigs stacked in front of a refrigerator and bags of pig feed.

    Then there's the manure. It's piled in mounds in cages and concrete pens where the animals live, dripping down the walls and floating as particulate matter in a fetid brown haze that permeates the buildings.
And guess what? This ain't even the worst of them ("critics say HKY is hardly unique among the thousands of large hog farms that have sprung up in the past decade"), and they'll keep on going until people band together and stop them. Which is what some brave souls are doing. As the Chicago Tribune reports (via Miami Herald), "increasingly, neighbors themselves are heading to court, complaining that the odor and gases wafting toward their homes are making them sick and destroying their property values."

Hog industry advocates insist that "the backlash has been driven by urban residents who move to the country and don't like the smells that come with it." Now, you may have wondered about the sentence I italicized up there. Does that square with this? I know the smell of the country, I know it well. It's not something that knocks you over. It's not the smell of death. That's not the smell of the country, it's the smell of screw-everybody CAFOs. (The GAO noted that 60 percent of the largest CAFOs are unregulated.)

And lest we forget what's driving the other side, well, it's pretty simple. This article notes in passing that "the No. 2 official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jim Moseley, is a champion of industrial-style hog production and the former manager of Infinity Pork, a hog CAFO in Indiana. Illinois' Department of Agriculture director, Chuck Hartke, is a former farmer whose son now runs the family's factory-style hog farm."

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