Pigs (copy)

Lower retail prices are moving more pork, and the pork producer is receiving a higher percentage and a higher total value from the pork being sold.

STEVENS POINT — One of these days, local folks are going to tire of being punched around by state lawmakers and their big business and big agriculture cronies.

State livestock siting rules are the latest of many ugly examples. Wisconsin is in the process of revising its rules for siting confined animal feeding operations — those with the equivalent of 1,000 animal units, or many times more. It’s a periodic process that will lead to eventual legislative approval.

One revision would allow municipalities to enforce larger setbacks from adjacent properties or public rights of way based on criteria like the type of animal facility and manure storage. Makes sense, right? No one wants to live close to big CAFOs: They wreck quality of life, water quality is often impaired, human health impacts are demonstrable and property values decline.

But the usual list of suspects, including the Wisconsin Farm Bureau, the Dairy Business Association and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, all oppose the change. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald weighed in early against the setbacks. Yes, once again, local powers would be pushed aside by the big hogs at the trough.

And they’re bending the truth beyond repair to make their case. Cindy Leitner, of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance — made up of large dairy CAFOS — linked Wisconsin’s struggling dairy industry to the proposed change, saying, “At a time when our industry is struggling the most, we cannot afford any more loss due to costly rules and revisions.” Adopting the rules would put an end to livestock expansion in the state, she added.

But people with more than a passing knowledge of farming know CAFOs are actually cutting the bottom out from under smaller producers who can’t compete. Making liberal standards for new and expanded CAFOs isn’t going help small- and medium-sized producers. It can only hurt them.

And at a time when Iowa hog operations are actively pushing to expand into Wisconsin, it’s pretty clear big business and big ag here crave just that. At least three counties — Bayfield, Burnett and Crawford — have used moratoriums and other efforts to stall huge hog CAFOs with tens of thousands of animals. Will we see more of this? No question. Iowa is saturated, literally, mostly because the state has been so cavalier with siting. Fears about disease like African swine flu spreading through a concentrated population of millions of Iowa hogs are probably driving efforts to expand into Wisconsin. If it happens, some areas of our state will never be the same, and it won’t be for the better, no matter what the big hogs say.

The Iowa Policy Project reported that Iowa has four times as many CAFOs today as it did in 2001, with an estimated 10,000 CAFOs of all sizes. The growth is being fueled by China and its huge appetite for pork. The state’s lax siting rules are what opened the door, said the IPP. There, about 97% of requested permits are approved, even in fragile karst topography and routinely over the objections of county supervisors, neighbors and citizen groups. Out of the way, say the big hogs.

“It is impossible to avoid the very substantial scientific evidence showing the impact of livestock production and its rapid growth on the degradation of Iowa water and air, and consequently the health of the people of the state,” IPP said in a January 2018 report.

Is that what the big hogs want here?

Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. billnick@charter.net

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