The Humane Society of the United States served notice of its intent to sue 51 industrial-style intensive pig confinement operations located throughout Iowa, North Carolina and Oklahoma for unreported releases of the hazardous pollutant ammonia. These facilities, in several of the top pork-producing states, were identified after The HSUS conducted months of research into an industry that has become heavily consolidated in recent years, with more than 90 percent of family farms raising pigs going out of business in the last three decades.
It was no surprise to find that many of those receiving notice are affiliated with the leaders and spokespersons of the National Pork Producers Council, a trade group that defends confining pigs in cramped gestation crates. The crates are so restrictive that the animals cannot even turn around in them. Each of these operations confines thousands, if not tens of thousands, of pigs—with the females typically in gestation crates— and emits hundreds of pounds of airborne ammonia per day. As a result, they regularly endanger communities, farm animals, wildlife and the environment.
Some of the executives for the pork industry giants that received notices, such as the Maschhoffs and Iowa Select, also hold positions as executives and spokespersons for pork lobbying groups like the NPPC. In addition, many of the facilities receiving notice letters are controlled by Jack Decoster, whose operations have a long record of environmental, worker and food safety problems including the 2010 recall of 380 million eggs due to salmonella contamination.
While The HSUS recognizes there are farmers who are attentive to animal welfare and environmental issues, the letters sent today illustrate how some of the wealthiest pork-producing companies apparently refuse to comply with a critical federal law for public health protection.
“These intensive pig confinement operations are a menace to the environment, to the community, and to the animals virtually immobilized in tiny gestation crates for nearly their entire lives,” says Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS. “The National Pork Producers Council’s record on environmental degradation is just as sordid as its record on the systemic mistreatment of animals.”
The notice letters are required under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act before litigation can start, according to that statute’s citizen suit provisions.
The law requires all facilities that release certain amounts of harmful contaminants to report those amounts to state and local emergency response teams. The information provides the state, emergency responders and the local community with essential information about their exposure to hazardous substances, including ammonia.
Because of ammonia’s lethal potential, high production volume and chronic toxicity, the EPA requires reporting by any facility that releases more than 100 pounds within a 24 hour period. All of the operations put on notice today exceed this requirement, and in some cases by vast amounts.
- About 80 percent of breeding sows in the United States are confined in crates so small the animals are virtually immobilized for their entire lives. Extensive scientific research confirms this causes animal suffering and produces a considerable amount of excrement-related pollutants.
- Airborne ammonia at intensive pig confinement operations is primarily a result of the chemical breakdown of animal manure and urine.
- Each of the named operations confines from 4,000 to more than 100,000 pigs, with the total number of animals at the 51 facilities adding up to more than 540,000 pigs. All of the facilities release more than 100 pounds and sometimes up to 10,000 pounds of ammonia into surrounding communities and the environment on a daily basis.
- One adult pig produces as much as eight times as much solid waste per day as a human, which means that a 5,000-head industrialized pig operation could produce the same volume of raw sewage as a town of 40,000 people.
- A 2001 Environmental Protection Agency study estimates that animal agriculture operations are responsible for almost three fourths of airborne ammonia pollution in the United States.
- In humans, ammonia is a hazardous toxin that can be readily absorbed by the respiratory tract causing irritation of the eyes, nose and throat; pulmonary disease; and, in severe cases, death.
- Exposure to ammonia can cause chronic stress and health problems for confined animals.
- Ammonia emissions from the livestock sector contribute significantly to degradation of environmental resources, including the air, water and land.
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