Jousting starts over livestock megafarms

INDIANA - A battle over the fate of Indiana's largest livestock farms got under way Monday, as lawmakers debated whether to impose a three-year moratorium and new, higher fees on the operations.
calendar icon 30 January 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

Called confined-feeding operations because the animals never leave the barn, these farms are part of Indiana's growing agricultural economy. They're also the center of a growing number of complaints from neighbors who say the stench and pollution of the farms ruin their property values and quality of life.

Backers of the farms say most are environmentally responsible and play a key role in feeding Hoosiers and growing the state's economy. The two sides squared off in an emotional, five-hour hearing Monday before the Senate's environmental affairs committee.

"I've seen swing sets, houses and laundry lines covered in manure from these farms," said Roxanna Hanford, a commissioner in Newton County, which she estimates has about two dozen of the confined-feeding operations. "They're terrible."

Studies in North Carolina and Iowa have found that people living near such large farms complain of fatigue, headaches, sore throats and respiratory problems. Purdue University is studying Indiana's farms for evidence of the same.

Statewide, there are about 2,200 of the large livestock farms, which must have at least 300 cattle, 600 swine or sheep or 30,000 fowl to be classified as a "confined-feeding operation."

About 575 of those are large enough to fall into a separate category called "concentrated animal-feeding operations." Those have at least 10,000 swine, 1,000 young cattle or veal calves or 125,000 fowl.

The Senate committee heard testimony on three proposals: one bill that would place additional fees on the farms, a second that would place a three-year moratorium on any new operations and a third that would prohibit counties from adopting ordinances that go beyond state law.

Sen. Beverly J. Gard, R-Greenfield, has filed Senate Bill 431, which would increase fees on so-called confined-feeding operations to $3,000 from a range of $100 to $350. The money would be used to hire additional inspectors in the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to make sure the farms meet state and federal regulations.

Currently, only 16 inspectors cover Indiana's largest livestock operations, IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly told the committee.


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