Robert Kennedy Jr.: ‘Factory Farm’ Crusader Lives High On the Hog
What is Kennedy Jr. thinking suing zero-discharge hog farms for ... discharge? Perhaps his trial lawyers can answer.
March 29, 2010 - 12:00 am
What is the environmental movement thinking?
Now extending the list of their mistakes is a Robert Kennedy Jr. campaign to dump millions of tons of hog waste into American rivers … while his trial lawyer acquaintances take billions suing the modern confinement farms that produce most of America’s meat and eggs. How does that square with Bobby’s long-term claim to be the nation’s top “riverkeeper”?
For more than a decade Bobby has been railing against “factory farming,” which he defines as any farm that keeps its birds or animals indoors. Kennedy claims the big hog farms produce more manure than a large city, and claims their waste is ruining our rivers.
Bobby’s got it backwards.
The little hog farmers keep their hogs outdoors, and often use the creeks as hog sewers. Today’s commercial hog farms are zero-discharge. They don’t pour any water or waste into the streams. The hog wastes are carefully collected in ponds and tanks and then used as organic fertilizer on crop fields.
When Bobby Jr. sued Smithfield Farms a few years ago, claiming the hog waste was ruining North Carolina’s rivers, his suit was tossed out of court. The judge even forced Bobby Jr. to pay Smithfield’s legal fees.
The big problem for Kennedy, then and now, is that he can’t demonstrate any impairment of the rivers. In the Smithfield case, North Carolina’s water quality reports have consistently shown that larger hog farms, with 99 percent of the state’s hogs, discharge nothing at all into the rivers. Land-grant university investigating teams found the offending one percent were on smaller, older farms that didn’t have the latest equipment and techniques.
North Carolina’s Black River watershed has the highest concentration of hogs in America. The state says it’s still “an outstanding resource water.” The river has no higher nitrate content today, with 9 million hogs, than it did 15 years ago with 2 million. In fact, most of the nitrate put into North Carolina rivers comes not from the hog farms but from urban sewage treatment plants. Sewage treatment typically takes out only half of the nitrate from human wastes.
By shifting tactics and location, however, Bobby’s trial lawyer team won at least one lawsuit against a big hog farm — Premium Standard Farms in Missouri. But that suit was about odor. One such lawsuit claimed the hog farm odors had caused every case of flu, fatigue, and depression in the county. Unmindful of the irony, they then passed around a cloth dipped in hog waste.
A Smithfield representative told the Associated Press:
In Missouri, there is no limit to the amount a plaintiff can recover for an alleged nuisance, no matter how slight. The potential … [makes] Missouri extremely attractive to out-of-state plaintiffs’ lawyers looking for big paydays.
In fact, the confinement farms are better for both the animals and the environment. The animals are protected from heat and cold, so they gain more weight on less feed. Moreover, it would take all the cropland in Pennsylvania to give 60 million hogs their outdoor “playgrounds.” Remember, we’ll need twice as much food in 2050, and there is no sign that people will give up bacon for breakfast or pork roast for Sunday dinner.
Bobby Kennedy Jr. certainly doesn’t care about a few dozen neighbors of a few dozen confinement hog farms, but says his trial lawyers can make $10 billion suing the confinement livestock farms.
Something seems to have gone very wrong with our environmental movement.