The Humane Society of the United States recently announced its intent to sue 51 hog farms in the top pork producing states of Iowa, North Carolina and Oklahoma citing findings of its own research of unreported ammonia emissions. HSUS says these amounts of ammonia coming from urine and manure are harmful.
According to HSUS, these facilities did not report ammonia emissions exceeding 100 pounds in a 24-hour period to local emergency response teams and the Environmental Protection Agency, which is against the law for certain industries.
Although HSUS's statement does not acknowledge it, whether or not these limits apply to the livestock industry is an ongoing debate. "We agreed with EPA that if you are going to set the standards, do it based on science," says Dave Warner, communications director for the National Pork Producers Council. Neil Dierks, CEO of NPPC, says there is confusion regarding this regulation. "There's some question as to whether it applies to livestock or not," he says.
Animal rights group's intention to sue hog farms appears to be a scare tactic
HSUS says many of these facilities are affiliated with leaders and spokespersons of NPPC, and points to Maschoff Pork and Iowa Select as specific targets of the letters. NPPC officials say the letters of intent are more about paperwork violations of a rule that didn't apply to livestock until 2009. Even since then it's been unclear whether the rule applies to routine agriculture, says Michael Formica, NPPC's chief environmental counsel. EPA has been looking into the question. "In fairness to environmental activists, EPA should have finished that a couple of years ago," Formica says.
The reporting rule created confusion due to several states not accepting these reports and others telling producers the regulation is a hoax. "EPA did a poor job of telling producers about this and educating them how to determine if they meet a threshold that would require them to report," says Warner.
What is HSUS real motive? Is HSUS trying to get attention on other issues?
Warner says just because ammonia levels go unreported, it doesn't necessarily mean they are dangerous. By sending the letters of intent, Warner says HSUS is using scare tactics to attack NPPC's opposition to HSUS's campaign against the use of gestation stalls in sow housing, as well as the egg bill HSUS is trying to attach to the 2012 Farm Bill -- something livestock producers across all spectrums fear could allow more regulation in their own sectors.
While HSUS is required under the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act to announce its intent to sue before litigation can begin, Dierks says HSUS has been doing this mostly to get attention, which causes frustration among NPPC members. "HSUS is throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the pork industry because of our position on sow housing," he says. "HSUS is using it for media attention."
Gestation stall issue is directly addressed in the letters HSUS has sent out
The gestation stall issue is directly addressed in HSUS's statement, which emphasizes the size of the facilities, ranging from 4,000 to over 540,000 pigs. "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," HSUS spokesperson Jonathan Lovvorn says. "The National Pork Producers Council's record on environmental degradation is just as sordid as its record on the systemic mistreatment of animals."
Warner says that's not true. "When it comes to all types of environmental issues -- land, water or air -- the U.S. pork industry has been very progressive," he says. HSUS "isn't telling the truth about how hog farmers raise and care for their animals and now HSUS isn't telling the truth about hog farmers' stewardship of the environment." Adds Dierks, "We look at this as another attempt by HSUS to put pressure on the pork industry."
Harris is a Wallaces Farmer intern