Eureka Springs Independent
Guestatorial Cargill Op-Ed response
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
There are times in the course of human events, when things are so unbelievable I just have to gasp in amazement. That was my first reaction to food giant Cargill’s comments, as reported in a recent Eureka Springs Independent article, following the latest developments on the Buffalo River: A U.S District Court Judge found on Dec. 2 that in the case of the Cargill-supplied 6500-hog industrial facility located in the Buffalo River Watershed at Mt. Judea, the Farm Service Agency and Small Business Administration illegally guaranteed loans to the hog farmers, and the court now requires the agencies to re-do their Environmental Assessments within one year.
In the article, Cargill Pork Division President Mike Luker characterizes the farm owners as “three local families who have resided in rural northwest Arkansas for eight generations, farmed the land for half a century… raised hogs for more than a decade… grew up near… Mount Judea, learning to swim in local creeks… fish in local ponds…” This is all true enough. But it’s in the next paragraph where things start to get amazing. Luker paints the farmers as doing everything right, by the book, according to EPA rules, as if no court had just found serious flaws with environmental analyses that paved the way for the farm. From what Mr. Luker suggests, one wonders how such stalwart citizens could be suffering the brunt of legal actions.
Well, according to the court decision, the proceedings that enabled their farm’s existence were not so stalwart. Whether the farmers knew what they were doing in the events conspiring to establish C&H Hog Farms, or they just believed things would be all right if they followed the questionable lead of big business and state agencies, is not known. For sure, they allowed themselves to be propped up by Cargill and others on a platform as legally porous as the ground surrounding the farm. And somewhere in those proceedings and consequent illegal actions is where the culpability for this mess lies.
Under false pretenses, we now have a very large hog farm up and running in the Buffalo River watershed, coupled with numerous assurances of safety offered after the fact and in denial of the almost certain pollution of the river. “State of the Art,” the latest,” the “safest” – these are words and terms bandied about by Cargill to describe this first industrial size hog farm in the watershed, a refrain echoed by the hog farm owners, the powerful American Farm Bureau Federation lobby, and even the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
Cargill has publicly stated it intends to drain the current clay-lined lagoons holding two million gallons of feces and urine and rebuild them with plastic-like liners. In addition, they are entertaining the idea of something called a “plasma arc” system to zap the untreated waste and release it into the atmosphere, an expensive and questionable process that has never been fully tested on this type of byproduct.
While I appreciate Cargill trying to right a wrong, the singular right thing to do is relocate this facility to an appropriate location and remove its threat to one of the state’s finest rivers. Their offered solutions leave me asking “Why, if it ain’t broke, are they trying to fix it?” Do they, too, recognize that this “state of the art” CAFO is no match for the forces of karst geology, and will almost certainly compromise the Buffalo River?
Thankfully by court order, the validity of this CAFO in the watershed, put in place by faulty loans and faulty environmental analyses, must be thoroughly re-examined. And if in the process this family of farmers loses what they’ve gained under false pretenses, then let us cast our scrutiny on those who perpetuated the false pretenses.
Finally, with the new court findings and a more revealing and honest appraisal up ahead, if C & H, Farm Bureau and/or Cargill really had the community in mind, wouldn’t they find an honorable way to move the hog operation from its current inappropriate location, and not waste precious time?
Dane Schumacher Buffalo River Watershed Alliance