David Hoppe

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:: Right to farm is right to pollute

This stinks

by David Hoppe

You might have been forgiven for thinking pigs were flying last week. That, at any rate, was the effect of Judge Marianne Vorhees’ ruling that Indiana’s so-called “right to farm” law is constitutional and that a North Carolina-based pig factory, run by Maxwell Foods, is the law’s beneficiary.

It seems Maxwell started setting up shop in Randolph County in 2007. Over the next five years, it managed to triple hog production in the rural region between Muncie and the Ohio state line to the tune of about 178,000.

The Associated Press reported that people who were already living in that region filed lawsuits against Maxwell, accusing it and other defendants “of allowing hog waste to accumulate and ‘noxious fumes and odors to discharge from and be sensed beyond the boundaries of their property.’”

In other words, the industrial-scale hog factories stunk up the place.

This is an all-too-familiar story. Large-scale hog waste fouls the air and poses a serious risk to local water supplies. It’s not uncommon for people to experience chronic headaches, burning eyes, and shortness of breath. Their clothes stink. Their homes become unsaleable.

So goes life in the country.

What really stunk was Judge Vorhees’ ruling that since the hog farms were on land that had been farmed continuously since the 1950s, the switch from crop production to hog production “does not constitute a significant change.”

Vorhees said the suit could only proceed if the neighbors could “produce evidence that defendants were negligent, and defendants’ negligence was the cause of the odors.”

But, of course, causing odors is what hog farms do. That, according to the Right to Farm law, is, hold on: their right.

There’s more than manure that stinks about this situation. In the first place, it is worth noting that Indiana’s Right to Farm law was derived from a piece of boiler plate legislation drawn up by the corporate geniuses at ALEC, the Koch Brothers-funded American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC is all about making the states safe for big corporate players by drafting laws that are designed to get around pesky things like environmental regulations.

As Judge Vorhees correctly observed, the Right to Farm law expressly allows for changes in the type of farming and farm products being produced. But it goes even further: if deemed a nuisance by the court, those complaining neighbors might be liable for the costs incurred by the farm in connection with its defense.

So if your house has become unlivable, think twice before complaining about it.

What’s really discouraging about this situation is that Right to Farm was championed by Indiana’s Farm Bureau, the state’s primo farm advocacy group. Here we are in a moment when, for the first time in generations, Indiana could be poised to rebrand its agricultural scene in terms of high quality, sustainable, artisanal farm products. But instead of supporting these efforts, the Farm Bureau has all but said, “Get big or get out.”

If you live down wind of a hog factory, good luck with that.