A Big Stink: Illinois Citizens Fight Plans for Mega-Slaughterhouse

Last summer, a Davenport, Iowa reporter broke the story that plans were underway for building a pig slaughterhouse in nearby East Moline, Ill. The town mayor denied any knowledge about the development. A few months later, residents learned there were plans to annex several hundred acres of land, and over 100 people packed the city hall wanting to know the purpose. By November, East Moline city officials were clearly working on a deal with the pork company Triumph Foods.

In response, local activists came together to protect their community. Calling themselves Supporters of Earth, People and Animals (SEPA), the group set out to educate the public about the effects of the hog industry, particularly slaughter plants and confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Beyond immediate concerns about the impact of building what Triumph has said will be one of the largest pig slaughter plants in the world-processing around 16,000 hogs a day-these facilities are notorious for attracting inhumane, environmentally destructive CAFOs to reduce transportation costs.

"It will cause all sorts of ripple effects," said Eagle View Sierra Club Chairman Jerry Neff, citing the destruction of nearby wetlands, major pollution and increased flooding risks as inevitable problems associated with bringing the plant to the area. "In every community where one of these pork processing plants is built, the quality of life goes down," he said. Regardless of these factors, many local officials view the Triumph plant as an economic opportunity that would bring jobs to the community.

A major financial incentive was proposed in the form of multimillion dollar "enterprise zone" tax breaks to encourage the company to break ground in East Moline. The incentive had to be approved by each city council in the Quad City area, so SEPA members attended city council meetings to give informative speeches and presentations on the issue. The group also held public meetings. East Moline and neighboring Moline and Milan approved the enterprise zone in late February. But in a huge victory for SEPA, the city council in Silvis struck it down 7 to 1 the next month.

Unfortunately, the story doesn't end there. Ignoring the clear objections of local citizens, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich offered Triumph another deal-$16 million in incentives through the state's Opportunity Returns program-which the company accepted. SEPA activists are continuing to protest the plant. "We believe that we have to take this issue to the courts to stop Triumph from building their plant here," said member Jimmy Kuehling. "We're raising much needed money to support this legal effort."