|By VICKI JOHNSON
WASHINGTON D.C. — Terry Spence described life at his Missouri farm next to a factory farm as “a living nightmare.”
Spence was one several rural residents who shared their stories April 26 during a news conference at the Sierra Club’s Legislative Office. Spence, a family farmer from Unionville, Mo., and president of Family Farms for the Future, has been fighting a legal battle with a CAFO two miles from his home for 12 years.
“I live next to 80,000 hogs,” he said.
He doesn’t want to move because the farm has been in his family for three generations. He’s spent about three years in local, county and state court before moving on to federal court for five or six years.
“We’ve been in class action for the last two years,” he said. “There was no consideration for our lives and no consideration for our health,” he said. “After 12 years we are still facing the same issues. Nothing has changed.”
Daily life is a challenge, he said.
“I don’t think it could get any worse,” he said. “You really look forward to that fresh smell of spring. Instead, you get a blast of ammonia and manure smell.”
He said there are different smells on different days.
“You never know how to plan your day,” he said.
If he works in a field with the smell for a day, he suffers from sinus congestion and drainage. “You will feel the effect for days,” he said.
He compared the working conditions to the air in coal mines and the eventual health problems suffered by miners.
“What we’re doing is not just for me,” he said. “It’s getting worse on a broader scale. We’re looking at a bigger problem in a bigger area. If they continue consolidating the problem is going to be a lot worse.
“Our independence is at stake as farmers,” he said. “Our independence is a stake as consumers.”
“I want to preserve and protect the traditional ways of agriculture,” he said. To do that, he said consumers must be educated and made aware of the threats to their health from factory farms.
“To get exemptions and breaks as farmers is ridiculous,” he said. “This is not agriculture. This is industry.
“I’m here with this elite group of people who are here fighting for their families,” he said. “We care about our children and grandchildren. Something has to change to bring this back to sanity and reality.”
Sue Torrey of Cygnet, Ohio, traveled with Jane Phillips of Custar, Ohio, to attend the event.
“The Midwest is being invaded by CAFOs,” Torrey said at the conference. In her area, she said dairy farms with 2,000 cows each are moving in.
Manure is accumulated untreated in open-air ponds and then spread on fields in “mass quantities,” she said.
Torrey is concerned about groundwater in her Wood County, Ohio, area because there are 60,000 abandoned oil and gas wells that are uncapped or poorly capped. “Those are a direct pipeline to our aquifers,” she said.
In addition, because the area was formerly the Great Black Swamp, she said there is a web of underground tile creating a drainage system throughout Northwest Ohio.
“These are meant to move large amounts of water quickly,” she said. During heavy rains, pollutants go directly from fields into streams that eventually feed Lake Erie.
She said the nation must insist on regulations. “We must hold them accountable for their misbehavior,” she said. “This is a brand-new low for all of them.”
Kalbach, a registered nurse and family farmer from Dexter, Iowa, said her family is no longer raising livestock because of competition from CAFOs.
“Iowa is the largest hog-producing state in the nation,” she said. And most of the business has been taken over by CAFOs since 1995.
In response to resident concerns, Kalbach said Iowa legislators have started taking some action. If CAFOs are allowed to bypass federal regulations, she’s concerned that it will undermine the progress that has been made.
This farm news was published in the May 3, 2006 issue of Farm World.