In the mind of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., corporate pork production is a greater threat to American life and liberty than terrorist Osama bin Laden.
“This threat is greater than that in Afghanistan,” says Kennedy. “This is not only a threat to the environment, it is a threat to the American economy and democracy.”
Kennedy and other Waterkeeper Alliance officials recently brought their environmental campaign to Illinois, Iowa and Minnesota with town hall meetings. Kennedy's comments are from a speech made at St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN.
Kennedy is president of the environmental activist organization which is suing Smithfield Foods for environmental offenses in North Carolina. The lawsuits are based on alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation Recovery Act, along with allegations under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.
In the latest ruling, a U.S. District Court judge denied Smithfield's motion to appeal the court decision of Sept. 20. That decision allowed discovery to begin in two of the Waterkeeper's lawsuits.
In addition, the judge ruled that if hog farms are Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), then sprayfields can qualify as a point source of pollution without a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, which may be a violation of the Clean Water Act.
Kennedy noted that hydrogen sulfide and ammonia emissions from midwestern hog barns may be the focal points of more lawsuits, although none have been filed at this time.
Not Just the Environment
Kennedy told an overflowing crowd of an estimated 1,000 anti-agriculture activists and college students that he wouldn't want to live in the land of 10,000 lakes if it didn't have any family farms, which he gave religious status. “Closing the last family farm is like tearing out the last pages of the last Bible, Torah or Talmud,” he says.
In Minnesota, the department of agriculture's technical support for farmers to build lagoon systems constitutes an official policy for factory farms, he says. “The state government is encouraging the running out of family farms in this state.”
He went on to accuse the U.S. pork industry of paying low wages to illegal workers, mistreating animals and making money only because of illegal dumping of manure.
Rick Dove, former Riverkeeper of the Nuese River in North Carolina, outlined the condition of the state's waters.
“The waters and rivers of North Carolina are ghosts of their former selves, but they are not dead,” he says.
The state did not take action to address pfiesteria-related fish kills in the early 1990s because it didn't want to scare away tourists from the Outer Banks, he says.
The Waterkeepers blame the water quality issues associated with algae blooms and pfiesteria on large hog farms. But Dove also notes that the waters were already overburdened with nutrients from chicken and turkey production, along with fertilizer runoff from golf courses and lawns and spills from municipal waste plants.
“Many of the waters were already overfilled with nutrients before CAFOs began in the early 1990s,” he says.
Dove is also the coordinator of a 20-airplane “air force” that monitors hog farms and sprayfield activity. They fly at 1,000 ft. with sensitive camera equipment. He acknowledged that the planes often fly after above average rainfalls, because that's when it is easiest to document environmental offenses.
He told the crowd that Minnesota's activists are following the same pattern that the North Carolinians used five years ago. He pledged support for midwestern environmental groups.
“We're glad to partner with your environmental groups, to bring sanity back to our farm industry,” he says.