Activists Stop Construction of Massive Hog Factory

By Gail Eisnitz Chief Investigator, Humane Farming Association

In November 1998, a coalition consisting of Concerned Rosebud Area Citizens, Humane Farming Association, South Dakota Peace and Justice Center, and Prairie Hills Audubon Society took on an unprecedented legal battle against what was scheduled to be the third largest hog factory in the world. The factory was to be sited on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in southern South Dakota, the second poorest reservation in the United States. In addition to the cruelty on an almost incalculable scale, it would have generated roughly three times the amount of raw sewage of the entire human population of the state of South Dakota.

Because Indian lands are exempt from state environmental laws, Bell Farms, a major hog factory corporation, entered into a joint venture with the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council to operate its proposed factory producing nearly one million pigs a year on reservation lands. However, the hog factory was subject to federal law, so the citizens' coalition, with Humane Farming Association's financial support, sued the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), challenging it for not first preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

The coalition's first legal battle was successful, and the BIA was forced to halt construction of the project until such time as an EIS was prepared. In response, Bell Farms sued the BIA in federal court in South Dakota, and the citizens' coalition intervened on behalf of the BIA. Bell Farms ultimately won that round and construction was allowed to proceed without preparation of an EIS. Contrary to federal laws requiring public input, most tribal members had been kept in the dark about the venture and about the horrors of factory farming. As the coalition continued with its legal battles, it also spread the word on the reservation about the horrendous cruelty, environmental hazards, and terrible working conditions associated with hog factories. When tribal members became aware of the appalling conditions that had been invited into their community, they promptly ousted their existing Tribal Council and voted in a new Council that opposed the factory farm.

In an amazing turn, in June 2000, after a complex and tortuous two-year legal battle, the Tribe, formerly a partner in the enterprise with Bell Farms, filed a motion with the court changing its legal posture in the case, realigning itself with the citizens' coalition and the federal government-against Bell Farms. As the litigation progressed, construction on the hog factory stopped after only two of the thirteen sites were built.

The citizens' coalition, the BIA, and the Tribe appealed the South Dakota judge's ruling in the Federal 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. In April 2002, in an astounding victory, the Circuit Court reversed the judge's decision and ruled in the coalition's favor and refused to rehear Bell's case. Earlier this year, the US Supreme Court upheld the winning appeal by declining to review Bell's appeal. This means that Bell Farms has no right to operate on Rosebud lands.

On March 6th, 2003, the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Council voted unanimously to shut down the two sites that had been built and remove them from tribal land. The Tribe then formally asked the BIA to provide assistance in initiating legal proceedings to evict Bell from the reservation. The BIA has yet to decide whether it will help the Tribe or not.

Please help by asking Assistant Secretary Martin to shut down the two Bell sites operating on Rosebud lands. Letters should be addressed to:

The Honorable Aurene Martin
Acting Assistant Secretary of Indian Affairs
Bureau of Indian Affairs
1849 C Street, NW
MIB 4140
Washington, DC 20240.

Read a history of the Rosebud struggle in Part V of The Price We Pay for Corporate Hogs, by Marlene Halverson, at Visit the Rosebud Sioux Tribe website Read Tracy Basile's interview with Rosalie Little Thunder at

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