Rural Illinois residents are “SORE” about new hog farm

Residents of Hancock County, Illinois are organizing an effort to prevent an industrial hog confinement facility from opening in their area. Junction Acres LLC was seeking permission to open an 18,000-unit facility outside of La Crosse in Hancock County IL. The local county board had been set to approve the facility without holding a pubic hearing. Residents circulated a petition requiring the board to hold a hearing, and one is now scheduled.

Local citizens have formed a group known as “Saving Our Rural Environment” (SORE) to block further industrial hog farm construction. SORE is concerned that the project was originally affiliated with Professional Swine Management, a firm with a history of environmental issues at its facilities. Possible problems include degradation of air quality and pollution of water supplies. SORE notes that they are not anti-livestock, in fact it is local small farmers doing the objecting. The problem is when industrial operations impose their presence upon communities with little or no warning and degrade the local environment.

When problems with modern livestock production facilities come up, most people are familiar with the issue of antibiotic overuse. Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) would be impossible without massive doses of antibiotics, which cause a gamut of ongoing problems. Those living near hog farms in North Carolina have been documented as having higher rates of a variety of lung problems, including: eye irritation, wheezing, chest tightness, shortness of breath, sore throat and nausea, as a result of air pollution from the facilities. Most of the problems are associated with waste particles that go airborne.

SORE is also concerned about possible impact to water quality. There is a spring-fed well near the proposed site. Junction Acres LLC has stated that they would use a concrete lagoon lined with a rubberized barrier. There is still a long history of hog farms and other CAFOs causing extensive pollution of local water supplies even when precautions such as lined lagoons are used. Deaths directly resulting from animal factory pollution can be documented as running into the hundreds. Then there is the loss of property values and quality of life that go with living next door to an industrial hog farm.

Wild pigs have a wide range, frequently grazing over many miles in a day. Pigs raised in a CAFO are confined to a tiny cage of metal, which restricts movement and has a grill instead of a floor to make waste disposal easier. Animals in a CAFO frequently have deformed feet and break bones struggling against their confinement. Pigs are intelligent animals; easily as intelligent as a dog, so it would be difficult to calculate what effect such treatment has on the animals over the course of their life, although we know that they “act up” when tightly confined.

By the time a hog is slaughtered at a CAFO, the animal has been dosed heavily with antibiotics, while typically still having respiratory infections, deformed feet, pus pockets and are covered in their own urine and excrement. Worse still are the “culling pens,” where the animals not fit for slaughter (unlike those just described) are placed or dumped to die. Animals dead and dying are frequently mixed together in this process.

North Carolina became a center for industrial hog farming thanks to concerted efforts by the industry and the politicians who were rewarded generously by the industry. It proved impossible for the small local farmers to fight the power of big money and politicians seeking reelection funds. SORE and the residents of Hancock County may have a tough fight ahead of them. Given the stakes involved, the residents appear to be doing the right thing.