Spokespersons for “Big Pig” CAFOs automatically recite their reason for being as “feeding a hungry world.”

That is simply not true.

There are still people starving in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Many more suffer from the effects of malnutrition from not having enough to eat. If “Big Pig” owners such as Cargill, ConAgra and the like were really interested in feeding a hungry world, they would make sure that their pork products went to places that are lacking in food rather than to folks in this well-fed country.

While the statistics are a bit hard to dig up and require a bit of deciphering and some math, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a statistics page on the internet. By my calculations, the number of hogs produced has remained about the same, but there are fewer hog farmers.

In Missouri, for instance, it appears pork producers in 1975 numbered 19,000, swelling to 40,000 in 1980, while in 2018 (the last year for which I could find any information) the number of producers shrunk to about 1,000. As far as I could tell, the number of hogs is about the same in 1975 and 2018.

There is a bit of discrepancy: The Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the agency in charge of issuing CAFO permits, states that there are 555 permitted hog operations in this state. But the USDA asserts there are 1,000. That is probably because a hog CAFO does not require a permit until it contains more that 2,499 hogs. There are also a few family farmers raising hogs. Still, there is an unexplained 445 hog producers.

Are there that many unpermitted CAFOs or that many family farmers?

One thing is for sure: Legislators — state and federal — are responsive to the entreaties of agribusinesses.

That responsiveness probably has something to do with money. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lobbyists listed for the Missouri legislature, but none of them represents family farmers or anyone other than industries.

I perused this on the “Follow the Money” site, but it seems that most lobbyists don’t reveal their clients. Not overtly, anyhow; no doubt if I had dug a bit further, that information would have been forthcoming. But I had only a few hours to access the client list.

To see that the lobbyists for agribusinesses have been successful, look no further than Senate Bill 391, introduced and pushed by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City.

This bill, signed by Gov. Mike Parson, takes away local control of CAFOs and gives the control to the relatively toothless Department of Natural Resources, whose mantra seems to be “You pay your money, you get your permit.”

When DNR’s oversight commission — the Clean Water Commission — had the audacity to reject a CAFO permit because it was to be located in a flood plain, the response of the state legislature was to add representatives to the commission. This was widely viewed as an act of revenge.

But, both SB 391 and the addition of agribusiness members to the Clean Water Commission would not have occurred without efforts from agribusiness lobbyists.

Feeding a hungry world? Nope. It is all about feeding agribusiness profits.


About opinions in the Missourian: The Missourian’s Opinion section is a public forum for the discussion of ideas. The views presented in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Missourian or the University of Missouri. If you would like to contribute to the Opinion page with a response or an original topic of your own, visit our submission form.

Ken Midkiff, formerly the director of the Sierra Club Clean Water Campaign, is now chair of the city’s Environment and Energy Commission and serves on the board of directors of the Great Rivers Environmental Law Center.

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