There aren't many more hogs produced today than in 1970, according to those involved with the pork industry.

What has changed is that hogs are raised on fewer and fewer farms. In the 1970s, it is estimated that there were more than 3 million producers of hogs. Today there are a bit fewer than 67,000.

What happened?

Corporate agribusiness took advantage of the somewhat disorganized nature of family farmers. For instance, if the price per pound of hogs declined, the reaction of family farmers was to raise more hogs.

The industrial response was to raise fewer, in the recognition that the market for hogs depended on the availability.

The second issue was sheer numbers. If, for example, a family farmer made a profit of $100 per hog, and admittedly that number is exaggerated, the mortgage could be paid.

But he or she had only 10 hogs that were marketable. That's a thousand bucks, and that was enough to pay the mortgage. But, if on one of those factory farms with an inventory of 8,000 market-ready hogs, $10 per head profit realized a take-home of $80,000.

So, a family farmer makes a thousand bucks, Big Ag makes $80,000. Economies of scale.

There was some grousing by family farmers that Big Ag deliberately flooded the market with hogs in the recognition that the price-per-head would go down and drive family farmers out of the market, thereby lessening the competition. That may or not be true, but in my research — for a book I wrote about Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations — I found no evidence that this had deliberately occurred.

What did occur was that the price per head did go down, and a number of family farmers stopped raising hogs. They either went out of farming, or they found other ways to pay the mortgage.

Now that the competition had been greatly reduced, colleges and universities jumped on the Big Ag bandwagon, including the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources at MU. Higher education became partners with Big Ag and were complicit in the agribusiness takeover of the pork industry.

No longer did colleges and universities teach about how to make it as a family farmer. They devoted their time and attention to factory farms.

The reasoning was and is that a diverse family farm (where row crops, chickens, pigs and cows more or less made up a unit where few outside resources were required) was viewed as a “thing of the past” and made much of the new requirements of the CAFOs.

At the same time, Big Ag secured the support of our legislative leaders, both state and national, via a combination of money and ear-bending. Mostly money.

Several farmer organizations — notably the Missouri Farm Bureau — also lent support to Big Ag. Crying that they were not represented by the farm organizations, farmers organized, but they could not match the influence of money. Besides which, farmers are notoriously independent cusses, and most don't have a lot of money.

Big Ag, accustomed to running roughshod over all opposition, did not, it seems, factor in the number of people whose noses were offended, and streams and drinking water were fouled by CAFOs.

While many CAFOs — some say all — produce as much waste as small, medium and large cities, none have wastewater treatment plants. They rely upon a systems that produces the most smell and the most contamination of water.

Without going into a lot of detail, the floor areas where the hogs are raised to market weight (about 250 pounds), are slatted and flushed at regular intervals. The urine and feces are then transported to a cess pond (agribusiness corporations call these “lagoons”), which holds the waste until full when it is sprayed onto nearby fields.

Besides stinking a lot, the stuff enters underground aquifers, fouling local wells, and rain carries the wastes into nearby creeks and rivers, where the waters become fouled. Aquatic critters don't do real well in polluted waters, and there have been numerous fish kills throughout this country.

This method is absolutely legal, and our elected representatives have made it so, thanks to the largesse and influence of Big Ag.

Thousands of hogs in confinement are bad enough, but the CAFOs also include laying hens, broilers, dairy and beef cows and just about any animal other than humans. When I was doing research on this, I found one goat CAFO, one dog CAFO and several for ducks.

CAFOS are not about to go away, thanks to the campaign monies contributed by Big Ag, but there is one solution that would help a lot: Pass laws that require that CAFOs of a certain size have wastewater treatment facilities.

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.

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