The Water Keeper Alliance Institutes Legal Attack on Pig Factories

On December 6, 2000, at press conferences in Washington, D.C. and Raleigh, North Carolina, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of the Water Keeper Alliance announced the launch of a broad legal assault  against America's large pig factories. The Water Keeper Alliance and a coalition of supporters have turned to private attorneys and law firms to pursue enforcement of environmental protection regulations. This is necessary, said Kennedy, since "Federal environmental prosecution against the meat industry has effectively ceased because Congress has eviscerated the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement budget while the political clout of powerful pork producers has trumped state enforcement efforts. This collapse of environmental enforcement has allowed corporate hog factories to proliferate with huge pollution-based profits."

The plaintiffs are seeking enforcement of state and federal laws, including the federal Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and Clean Air Act. Kennedy added: "What we are dealing with here is a crime….  And they should have to stop today so we can get back to the family farmers and the tried and true way of preserving America's landscape and waterways." Describing the confinement of sows in crates so small they cannot walk or turn around, Kennedy called pig factories "extraordinarily cruel." Jan Schlictmann, a renowned environmental attorney, referred to modern hog factories as "animal concentration camps."

Attorneys who are committed to "civilizing" industrial hog operations stood with Mr. Kennedy and coalition members at the press conference. Coalition members and press conference speakers included family farmers Terry Spence and Rolf Christen of Citizens Legal Environmental Action Network (CLEAN), Sierra Club representative Scott Dye, Leland Swenson, President of National Farmers' Union, Brother David Andrews of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference (NCRLC) and Diane Halverson, Farm Animal Advisor of the Animal Welfare Institute.

Following are excerpts from the statement made by Diane Halverson. "Industrial hog producers have driven independent farm families out of business, and in doing so, have decimated the culture of humane husbandry that once characterized American farming. Traditionally, farm families took joy in good stockmanship and pride in the robust health of their herds. Industrial agriculture, on the other hand, calls animals into existence, and before it kills them, makes them suffer.

"For the corporate investor the animal is not a sentient creature, but a 'production unit.' The corporation is intent on three things: maximizing the number of 'production units' in each building; eliminating the need for husbandry skills among workers; and minimizing the number of workers. To do this, sows on the industrial farm are permanently confined in coffin-like crates, unable to walk or even turn around. All pigs are denied bedding in order that their manure can be liquefied for easy handling; this liquefaction makes it possible to concentrate huge numbers of animals on one site. Liquefied manure, running into streams, seeping into groundwater and emitting toxic gases, causes the environmental and public health problems discussed today. It is inevitable that a system which grossly violates the biology of the animals inside the factory will wreak havoc on everyone and everything outside of the factory.

"Sow deaths are common inside factory sow operations. The death rate of some herds is as high as 20%. The factory system is characterized by widespread routine application of antibiotics to promote growth of piglets, promote sow productivity and to prevent outbreaks of disease in the hostile conditions of the factory. The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the routine, subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in agriculture as a major contributor to antibiotic resistance in humans. WHO recommends switching from industrial management of animals to more extensive, enriched housing methods to reduce the distress caused to the animals and thereby reduce the need for antibiotics.

"AWI is proud to support the effort announced today, to expose and rein in an industry characterized by callous disregard for society, our environment and animals."


Top Photo: Attendees included attorneys fighting the hog producers and representatives of organizations supporting the legal battle. Among others pictured here: Sue Jarrett, Global Resource Action Center for the Environment; Scott Dye, Sierra Club; Terry Spence, CLEAN; Leland Swenson, National Farmers' Union; and Brother David Andrews, NCRLC. 

Bottom Photo: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., President of the Water Keeper Alliance, and Diane Halverson holding a pig.