U.S. Water News Online
PHOENIX -- Hundreds of young hogs scurried back and forth
in pens, snorting and bumping into one another.
"Look at 'em," said Michael Terrill, a veterinarian and Pigs for
Farmer John vice president, leading a group of visitors. "They've all
got full bellies. They're eating great ... They're playful and
Terrill's tour in Snowflake, Ariz., was part of a public-relations
campaign designed to show that livestock at an industrial farm is
treated humanely and that 160,000 hogs can be raised without cruelty
Company officials are trying to open another Arizona pig farm in
Yuma County, a project stymied at the last minute by an assortment of
foes. Some are animal-rights activists. Others are neighboring
landowners, farmers and eco-defenders worried that an industrial-size
pork producer will suck up water supplies, stink up the county and
Terrill grits his teeth at the accusations. He said Farmer John is
an ethical and environmentally responsible pork company with a vested
interest in keeping pigs healthy.
"The way animals are taken care of today is light-years ahead of
the way they were handled 10 or 20 years ago," Terrill said.
But this spring, just weeks before the first pigs were expected to
arrive at the Yuma County farm, the Arizona Department of
Environmental Quality reversed its approval. Under pressure from
critics, it issued new permit requirements with more detailed
reports. Construction stopped, and legal wrangling began.
Thus began the War of the Pigs, a propaganda conflict that is not
uncommon when American hog farmers seek new turf.
The National Pork Board ("Pork: The other white meat") boasts a
"rapid response team" to deal with image problems.
"What we get into often is rumor and emotion and feelings that may
get out of control," said Paul Sundberg, the board's vice president.
The two sides even speak distinct languages: Farmer John refers to
pig excrement as an "organic nutrient stream," while critics call it
"sewage" or worse. Animals are butchered either at a "processing
plant" or a "slaughterhouse."
Terrill discusses the publicity campaign with distaste, a
necessary evil brought on by what he calls opposition "scare tactics"
that have proved costly and time-consuming.
"A lot of this stems from a very small number of very vocal
opponents," he said. "As farmers, we do a good job of raising food to
feed Americans. We do a poor job of telling people how we do it."
During the past half-century, market dynamics have transformed
food production in America, replacing family owned farms with
corporations and mass production.
Farmer John is a brand name used by Clougherty Packing LLC, a
Southern California subsidiary of Hormel Foods. The Snowflake farm,
with 140 employees, claims $30 million in revenues annually. Visitors
are required to shower before donning sterile clothing and boots. The
3,800-acre compound contains 130 buildings set in clusters according
to stages of pig development -- birthing, weaning, finishing. Hogs
are fed a diet of corn, soy and vitamins until market-ready at about
Terrill complains that America's pork producers are misunderstood
by the meat-eating public and slandered by animal-rights advocates.
"The animals have always been first and foremost on our priority
list," Terrill said, narrating a slide show. "If we're not taking
care of that animal, they're not going to take care of us."
Barns are equipped with computer-controlled climate, automatic
feeders and watering machines. Excrement spills through slatted
flooring into a pit, then flows to evaporation lagoons outside.
A pungent odor wafts downwind, and flies are present even a few
miles away along Arizona 77. But neighbors in the Snowflake area say
neither is overwhelming.
The proposed complex near Dateland would be a partnership between
Hormel and Cullison Farms LLC. Piglets would be trucked in after
weaning and grown to market weight. An estimated 28 million gallons
of pig manure produced each year would fertilize about 2,500 nearby
acres, mostly state lands that are now virgin desert.
The property, an hour from Yuma, is remote except for Interstate 8
passing by. There is a dairy farm down the road, crop fields where
treated human waste is tilled into the soil. Stephen Christian's
would-be housing development is across the highway.
In December 2006, the Cullison family obtained an environmental
permit without problem or protest. Then Christian learned that 52,800
pigs were about to move in.
"They made it sound like it was going to be all great, with no
problems. It was a done deal," he said. "But my subdivision becomes
worthless raw land. It's downwind from the farm."
Christian rallied others in the area, including local farmer Jon
Warkomski. He hired an attorney. He searched the Internet and
contacted animal-rights groups such as People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals and Farm Sanctuary, which abhor meat-eating.
Warkomski said his concern is that Cullison Farms will use 7.8
billion gallons of water annually, sucking dry the Gila Bend Aquifer
of southwestern Arizona. As a lifelong farmer, he shunned the
environmentalists and vegans but joined a challenge against the pig
Christian's lawyer followed with a letter alleging more than a
dozen inaccuracies or misrepresentations in Cullison's environmental
In March, the Department of Environmental Quality announced it
would now designate the proposed farm a "significant contributor of
pollutants," meaning the company must meet more permit requirements.
Construction stopped and Cullison filed an appeal. Department of
Environmental Quality spokesman Mark Shaffer said the company
recently agreed to drop the case and is trying to meet the extra
Christian said he thinks the farm will go forward.
"Legally, we couldn't stop 'em," he said.
Warkomski figures the project is dead because Cullison has been
unable to lease the state land needed for sewage dispersal.
Terrill won't even entertain the notion of failure. A lease is
signed with Cullison Farms, and $3 million has been spent already.
"We're committed to that program," he said.
Return to the
U.S. Water News' Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.