Community buildings across the Midwest filled with farmers and concerned citizens in early December when Friends of Rural America and Illinois Stewardship Alliance organized a whistlestop tour through Iowa and Illinois for Waterkeeper Alliance Senior Attorney Nicolette Hahn and Southeast Representative Rick Dove. AWI's Farm Animal Advisor, Diane Halverson, organized a Minnesota whistlestop for Waterkeeper Alliance Founder and President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. speaks about the cruelty and environmental dangers of factory farming at St. Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. (Doug McCrae/Faribault Daily News)
The tour galvanized various groups to fight corporate hog factories and led to massive press attention, including the Omaha World Herald and Des Moines Register. The St. Paul Pioneer Press proclaimed "Factory farms face threat of legal action;" while in Northfield, Minnesota, the Northfield News' headline read: "Kennedy: 'Day of reckoning coming.'" In Red Wing, Minnesota, the Red Wing Republican Eagle proclaimed "Kennedy warns audience of factory farms." The goal of the tour was to warn people living in regions burdened by animal factories about their dangers, identify citizens in need of legal support in their fight against factories, and provide details of Waterkeeper's legal actions against Smithfield Foods, Inc., the world's largest hog raiser and processor.
Waterkeeper Alliance has filed multiple legal actions against Smithfield under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), the federal Clean Water Act, the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (the federal solid and hazardous waste law), and North Carolina state law. RICO is a powerful tool to rein in outlaw industries. One of the themes of the RICO complaint is that Smithfield's operation is funded by its illegal pollution-based profits. In violating environmental laws, which is an intended part of its business strategy, it is unlawfully shifting the cost of handling its pollution to the American public.
The tour culminated with Mr. Kennedy's stirring speech to an overflow crowd, including a dozen state legislators, attorneys from Minnesota's Office of Attorney General, family farmers, public interest activists, and interested citizens from seven states, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota on December 7. Preceding the meeting, AWI organized a press conference that included Waterkeeper Alliance, AWI and environmental, public health, and family farm activists, and a reception for Minnesota citizens who suffer from living in the shadow of animal factory pollution, stench and cruelty and who have organized to fight industrial farming.
Following are excerpts from Mr. Kennedy's presentation:
"Instead of raising hogs on farms they shoehorn thousands of animals into a building where they live in unspeakable misery in tiny confinement crates. They live without straw bedding, without rooting opportunities, without sunshine, without the social interactions that are critical to the happiness of these animals.
"What polluters do is make themselves rich by making other people poor. They raise standards of living for themselves by lowering quality of life for everybody else. And they do that by escaping the discipline of the free market, by forcing the public to pay part of their costs of production.
"I want to make one last point and it's probably the most important point, but I think it takes a higher level of understanding: the most important issue that we're dealing with here is not the environmental democracy issue but the issue of how we treat these animals...at some level, we begin treating these sentient beings with such unspeakable cruelty that it has to come back and hurt us and it's going to destroy our humanity.
"I'm going to close with a proverb from the Lakota people, appropriated to some extent by the environmental movement, where they said 'We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.'
If we don't return to them something roughly equivalent to what we received, they have a right to ask us some very difficult questions....Thank you for joining us in this fistfight. As long as we don't give up, we can never lose."