In Illinois, a victory against CAFO construction

Swine skirmish.  Three weeks ago we wrote about a resolution that residents of Fulton County, Illinois, are sending to their state government, an attempt to prevent Professional Swine Management LLC from adding a 20,000-sow CAFO to the four other facilities it already runs in the county. As the Chicago Tribune reported, “Illinois law gives local communities little if any power over the siting of new confinements.” Consequently, “The resolution is only symbolic.”

Last week Professional Swine withdrew its notice of intent to build.

“Symbolic” it may be, but last week Professional Swine withdrew its notice of intent to build.  And the Peoria Journal Star poetically proclaimed where the credit should be due: “Protests prompt pork producer to pull the plug on Fulton hog facility.”

Among the celebrants, there is at least as much astonishment as celebration.  As Danielle Diamond, Executive Director of Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, puts it, “For any neighboring farmers who are in the path of a proposed factory farm, there is little recourse.”  Almost never is an application turned down: “This is a rare victory,” she says.  But each and every mention of a resulting “optimism” includes the word “cautious.”

While Professional Swine might have been reacting to the hue and cry of Everyman, there were other factors that may have influenced the decision—including some possible technical problems in the company’s proposal, and a particular political embarrassment within the Fulton County Farm Bureau, which, once having approved the plan, saw one of its members (Matt Howe, whose family farm is located 3,000 feet from the proposed facility) resign in public protest.

Sonja Eayrs, a southeastern Minnesota lawyer and farmer’s daughter fighting similar encroachment (as a member of Dodge County Concerned Citizens), continually emphasizes the historical power differential between the antagonists. “Local farm families are helpless,” she says. “There is still no pathway for adversely impacted citizens.”  Diamond seconds that: “Nobody can stop it unless there is a change in the laws.”

We note, however, in the Tribune coverage, that Howe and his allies are starting to work at the state capital “to launch an effort to persuade legislators to strengthen the Livestock Management Facilities Act, which governs the permitting and siting of hog confinements.”  Maybe that’s what motivated Professional (which so far has had no comment on its latest action) to bow out.

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Jeffrey Kittay After teaching literature at Yale, Kittay founded and was editor-in-chief of the magazine Lingua Franca: The Review of Academic Life, which the New York Times called “a hip trade journal for the cerebral set.” It won the National Magazine Award for General Excellence. He was subsequently part of the adjunct faculty at the Graduate School of Journalism of Columbia University, and the corporate board of Maine’s Portland Press Herald.

Kittay holds a Ph.D. from NYU and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Amherst College.