Photograph by Steven Higgs

Randolph County farmer Allen Hutchison is among a dozen rural Indiana residents who are suing CAFO operators for ruining the quality of their lives. Attorneys representing the Hoosiers won an $11 million jury award in Missouri in March.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels is responsible for the massive pain and suffering that rural Indiana citizens have suffered while living near concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), according to a former president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.

"Our current administration has kind of set the table for Indiana being a battlefront for this whole confrontation between this method of farming and the people who want to enjoy their community," said Indianapolis attorney Richard D. Hailey. "He made it a part of the overall economic development plan for the state of Indiana. ... There's almost been in invitation to turn Indiana into the capital of concentrated animal farming operations."

Hailey represents a dozen Indiana citizens in lawsuits against CAFO operators. And a few weeks after other members of his legal team won an $11 million jury verdict in Jackson County, Mo., Hailey said he believes the public can use the courts to do what the rest of state government has thus far refused to do.

"We mean through litigation to be a check and balance on that type of attitude toward land use," he said.

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When Daniels ran for governor in 2000, he vowed to double pork production in Indiana, a goal he set in motion upon his election by encouraging CAFO operations like the Union Go Dairy in Randolph County.

Union Go's 43-year-old owner Tony Goltstein, who moved his family from the Netherlands to the Ohio border, said in his annual report to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) last February that he has 1,290 "Mature Dairy Cattle" that generated 15.5 million gallons of manure in the previous 12 months.

Federal law defines Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) as "agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined situations. AFOs congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals and production operations on a small land area."

CAFOs are larger than Confined Feeding Operations (CFOs), which Indiana law defines as "any animal feeding operation engaged in the confined feeding of at least 300 cattle, or 600 swine or sheep, or 30,000 fowl, such as chickens, turkeys or other poultry."

IDEM estimates the state has roughly 625 AFOs, where manure is stored in lagoons, like the one at Union Go that neighbors nicknamed "Bubble Trouble" due to enormous, methane-gas filled bubbles that broke its surface.


Photograph by Steven Higgs

This bubble on a manure lagoon next to the Hutchison farm was one of 17 that developed over the past two years. The bubbles, which were popped on April Fool's day, were actually the lagoon liner that filled with methane gas and cow manure.

Allen Hutchison, who owns a small, adjacent farm, said during an interview in March that Bubble Trouble's plans called for it to be 7.2 acres and 14-feet deep, the largest in Randolph County and one of the biggest in the state. "It's got holes in it," he said of liner, which is supposed to lie on the bottom and protect groundwater from contamination. "It's full of methane."

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IDEM spokesman Barry Sneed said the bubbles were first observed during a July 2008 inspection, and IDEM took enforcement action against the facility.

Two years later, on March 15, 2010, Union Go submitted a proposal to release the gas from the bubbles, Sneed said. And two weeks later, the dairy carried out its plan.

"Staff worked with the consultant for the site to make sure that any gas released would be done in a controlled manner and that air monitoring would be in place to assure the release did not have an adverse impact on the community," Sneed wrote in an April 5 e-mail. "The controlled release of the bubbles occurred April 1, 2010."

Despite the dairy's problems and its recent filing for bankruptcy, Union Go is poised to grow. "The facility has proposed to address the liner issue by constructing two new lagoons to hold the manure from the present lagoon so it may be drained and repaired," Sneed wrote. "Once the repair is made, the farm will utilize a three-stage lagoon system."

In May 2009, IDEM approved a 322-animal expansion at Union Go. Citizens appealed the permit, and the matter is still pending.

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Joining Hailey in the Indiana cases against Union Go and other CAFOs are attorneys Richard H. Middleton Jr. from Savannah, Ga., and Charles F. Speer from Kansas City, who represented seven families in Missouri that alleged the same damages that Allen and Judy Hutchison and other Hoosier families do.
"Our current administration has kind of set the table for Indiana being a battlefront for this whole confrontation between this method of farming and the people who want to enjoy their community." - Richard D. Hailey, attorney
According to the PR Newswire, "Plaintiffs, some of whom have owned their farms for well over 100 years and spanning five generations, alleged that relentless and extreme odors emanating from defendants' finishing farm -- known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs -- created an unreasonable nuisance. Family members testified at trial that the smell was intense enough to prevent them from venturing outdoors on many days."

Hailey said six lawsuits have been filed in Indiana on behalf of 12 individuals, a number that will almost certainly grow. "We are looking at the potential of filing as many as a dozen more cases," he said.

That CAFOs are not traditional family farms was evident in the PR Newswire's description of the lawsuit's defendants. The citizens sued hog producers Premium Standard Farms, Inc. (PSF), which is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods and the privately held ContiGroup Companies (previously Continental Grain).

The verdict is the largest monetary award against a hog farm in an odor nuisance case, the article said.

The Missouri citizens filed their case in 2002. And when it finally got to the courtroom, the article continued, the jury heard "nearly five weeks of evidence centering on defendants' land application of massive quantities of liquid hog manure, maintenance of multiple-acre wastewater lagoons, and other odor-producing activities."

The article quoted lead trial attorney Middleton: "The families who brought this case have been living under a toxic cloud of hog waste produced by Premium Standard for more than 11 years. Defendants claimed their operations complied with state environmental regulations -- however, this trial showed that PSF produced industrial-scale pollution with complete lack of regard for the extreme toxicity its operation caused for its neighbors, day in and day out."

Hailey said the verdict has direct implications for Indiana.

"One of the notions was, 'Well, these rural people live around animals, so they won't care about the sludge and filth and smell and the contamination of their water,'" he said. "Well, Jackson County is not exactly Manhattan, N.Y. It's not exactly the west side of L.A. I think this notion that rural people don't want the same enjoyment of life as all of us do has pretty much been debunked by that jury."

Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.