Rosebud Sioux say no to pig shit

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Fri Jan 12 09:45:20 MST 2001

NY Times Op-Ed, January 12, 2001


The Pig Wars


NEW BERN, N.C. — When you're down and out, lift up your head and shout: At
least nobody's building a hog lagoon in the neighborhood.

"I found out at college, in class," says Eva Iyotte, a member of the
Rosebud Sioux tribe who was happily studying Native American culture when
her instructor casually mentioned that the Rosebud Reservation was about to
become the home of 860,000 hogs and their lagoons, which are basically
lakes full of animal waste.

Since then Ms. Iyotte and her friends have organized, hired a lawyer and
tossed out the old tribal leaders who invited corporate hog farming in. But
they have not managed to get rid of the several thousand pigs that now live
within sniffing distance of her home.

The hog fights are one of the more interesting public policy debates in the
nation today, and definitely a nice break for anybody who happens to be
tired of thinking about John Ashcroft. This week both the hog growers and
the corporate-hog-haters held meetings at the same convention hall in North
Carolina on the banks of the Neuse River, a body of water that the anti-hog
forces say has been plagued with flesh-eating parasites because of the

The North Carolina Pork Council arrived first, its members waving fat
notebooks full of environmental rules that they say have been imposed on
them over the last five years. "We're the most regulated in America, I
think," said State Senator John Kerr, a man who has clearly never met a
nuclear reactor or a New York City homeowner who wants permission to put in
a second bathroom.

Then, hot on the Pork Council's heels, came the Hog Summit, convened by
Rick Dove of the Water Keeper Alliance, who keeps a stack of photo albums
bearing titles like "Sores and Dead Fish and Things." Ms. Iyotte was there.
The featured speaker was Robert Kennedy Jr.

"I think there's way too many bridges down here for those Kennedy boys," a
state representative named Leslie Cox told the hog farmers on Tuesday, to
general merriment.

Have I mentioned that there's quite a bit of bad feeling all around?

North Carolina is the second-largest pork growing state in the nation,
after Iowa, and over the last decade virtually all of its independent hog
farmers have been driven out of business. The pigs are now owned by the
meat packers or their middlemen, and boarded out at what used to be called
farms but are now known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or
CANFO's to the initiates. Thousands of swine live in buildings that look
like low-rent industrial parks, fed by machines, segregated by age and
impregnated through artificial insemination. It's not precisely the way it
looked in "Babe."

The factory farms did great things for the profit margins of the packers,
who made sure that while they retained ownership of the pigs, they had no
responsibility whatsoever for the manure. Almost overnight the poor, rural
counties of eastern North Carolina were covered with lagoons. The smell
drove the neighbors crazy. The runoff went into the rivers and the
wetlands. It's an article of faith among the hog opponents that the state
legislature did not begin to clamp down on the industry until somebody
tried to put a CANFO next to the Pinehurst Golf Course.

"The rules changed," said Marion Howard, who still thinks of himself as a
family farmer even though he now raises somebody else's pigs on contract.
Like many of the farmers, he's bewildered and angry that some people now
seem to regard him as an environmental hazard. None of his lagoons smell.
His son is operating an experimental farm that draws off the solid part of
the hog waste and sells it to a worm farmer. But the Water Keepers, who
believe there's no such thing as a good lagoon, have named him as a
defendant in their civil action suit.

The North Carolina farmers have to deal with the problems the packers
prodded them into creating. But the hog industry, meanwhile, has gone
trotting off to find new locations with cheap land and fewer rules: Idaho,
Utah, Canada, Poland, Indian reservations. "The people in South Dakota
voted to not let corporate farming in the state, so they came in the back
door to our reservation," says Oleta Mednansky of the Rosebud Sioux.

Moral: If there's a back door in your neighborhood, get a lock.

Louis Proyect
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