January 19, 2009
Several staff members and doctoral fellows from the Center for a Livable Future attended a national CAFO summit in New Bern, NC organized by the Waterkeeper Alliance. The title of the summit was “Pure Farms, Pure Water,” which is the name of the Waterkeeper farm campaign. A diverse group of people from the U.S. and Canada attended the conference, and it was a very informative event.
The Waterkeeper Alliance focuses on an array of water quality issues, and uses an approach that includes monitoring and litigation (or threat of litigation) to enforce existing environmental laws. There was a focus on the detrimental effects CAFOs have on ground water at the summit, but many other problems were also discussed.
Topics covered at the meeting included:
- strategies communities can employ to fight the permitting of a proposed CAFO facility,
- how communities can monitor environmental law violations to build a legal case against existing sites,
- the incentive structure that led to the current food production system,
- what a sustainable food production system might look like and the importance of supporting a sustainable food system model instead of only speaking out against current methods,
- stories about what life is like living near CAFO sites and/or spray fields (the animal waste is sprayed onto fields and often blows onto people and their homes, cars, clothes, and land), and
- lessons learned by those who have fought CAFO sites and continue to do so.
Two of the highlights of the conference were speeches given by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who is the chairman of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and Jerry Meek, the chair of the North Carolina Democratic Party. Mr. Kennedy spoke of his years of experience using monitoring and the legal process to fight water pollution (a story in the local New Bern paper on his speech can be read here). One story he recounted was a trip he took to Poland because an American agriculture corporation was setting up intensive animal production facilities there. Mr. Kennedy assumed that it is a legal right in Poland to speak negatively about a company if you are being truthful, which is the case in the U.S. He learned that this is not a protected right in Poland, and that corporations can indict individuals themselves in place of the government, when he was indicted by the corporation for speaking out against them. Needless to say, he will not be traveling back to Poland anytime soon!
Jerry Meek recounted an incident when a lobbyist for a large agribusiness corporation called his office and informed him that her company wished to make a donation to the Democratic Party of North Carolina. Due to the company’s egregious worker rights and environmental law violations, Mr. Meek decided to reject the contribution. The lobbyist told him he was making a huge mistake and that she would inform all of her corporate colleagues in the state that the NC Democratic Party was anti-business. Mr. Meek stood his ground and wrote a letter stating the reasons he rejected the donation and made the letter public. Attendees of the conference were pleased to hear from a politician who rejected money from a powerful corporation because of their record on worker rights and harmful environmental practices.
Two field trips were offered on the final day of the summit that allowed participants to see CAFOs from the air in small private planes, or see a hog CAFO site (from a public road) and view a water sampling demonstration. Areal monitoring is important because there is very little publicly available information about CAFO sites and their operating practices, and vital information can be collected from the air regarding waste “lagoons” and spraying practices. The water sampling demonstration was very informative and covered sampling procedure, the importance of extensive documentation, laboratory testing and cost, and safety. The most valuable aspect of attending the summit was meeting others who are working on these issues. Many connections were made that will strengthen the network of people fighting the CAFO model of food production, and hopefully these associations will lead to significant progress toward a sustainable food system in the near future.
-Jillian Fry, CLF Predoctoral Fellow