When Rick Dove began his crusade against concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in his home of North Carolina in the early 1990s, he was a pioneer in this particular field of citizen activism. When the Vietnam veteran and retired Judge Adjutant General first became alarmed about water quality in the Neuse River that flows past his home in New Bern, few outside the agriculture industry even knew what the term meant.
Among those who did know was Robert Kennedy Jr.'s Riverkeeper Alliance, which in 1993 licensed Dove as a "Riverkeeper" to protect the Neuse and other troubled North Carolina waters threatened and degraded by industrial mega-farm operations and other forces. Since then, his efforts have helped achieve a state-imposed moratorium on new CAFOs and manure-storage lagoons and landed him a starring role in a new book on the subject called Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment by David Kirby.
On July 17, Dove will bring his story, which these days he calls "Crimes Against Nature," to the 2010 Indiana CAFO Watch Conference in Muncie, where he will be among the featured speakers.
"There are multiple assaults on the planet that are degrading it for future generations," Dove said during a brief telephone interview from his riverfront home on July 7. "They're pretty well known to all of us now, you know, climate change and global warming and all the consequences of that, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico."
"My goal is to bring what's happening in North Carolina to other places that are starting to, in varying degrees, suffer through the same kind of CAFO development." - Rick Dove, CAFO fighter
But while he will talk about the range of threats, Dove's focus will be CAFOs, whose environmental devastation, he says, "is equal to what's happening in the Gulf and to the climate overall."
North Carolina, he said, has the heaviest concentrations of animals in one place in the world. Iowa still has the distinction as the nation's No. 1 producer. "But in Iowa these farms are mostly spread out," he said. "And there are some traditional farming methods still being used there."
In North Carolina, the factory farms are concentrated in the coastal plain, which is an environmentally sensitive area -- very flat, high water tables, heavily ditched and very small, he said. "It's that area east of I-95 that cuts down the state."
CAFO swine in that region produce more fecal waste each day than 100 million people, he said. It is stored in outside lagoons, sprayed on agricultural fields and finds its way into ditches, streams and creeks. "Then we have fish dying by the billions here in the river that's right out in front of my house," Dove said.
"I want to bring that message of what's happened in North Carolina," he said. "I know the same thing is happening in Indiana."
When Gov. Mitch Daniels ran for governor in 2004, he vowed to double pork production in Indiana and opened the state to out-of-state industrial farm operations, like the North Carolina-based Maxwell Farms, which had been stymied by that state's moratorium.
"I'm also coming to learn, because I really want to learn from the folks in Indiana on what their successes have been and bring that back to North Carolina." - Rick Dove
Daniels has not reached his goal, but the Indiana Department of Environmental Management now permits roughly 650 confined feeding operations, which state 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."
Indiana CAFO Watch formed in response to this Daniels-inspired fecal invasion and is composed of mostly rural Hoosiers whose quality of life has been devastated by the odor, water pollution and other consequences of life surrounded by factory farms.
"My goal is to bring what's happening in North Carolina to other places that are starting to, in varying degrees, suffer through the same kind of CAFO development," Dove said, "and hopefully discuss some of the ways that we have managed to have success here in putting a stop to the further development and give some hope to the people who are fighting this issue in other places like Indiana."
And he expects the information to flow two ways. "I'm also coming to learn, because I really want to learn from the folks in Indiana on what their successes have been and bring that back to North Carolina," he said.
Unlike Indiana, North Carolina CAFO fighters haven't been up against politicians with egomaniacal ambitions like Daniels, whose name is bandied about as a 2012 presidential tender by ultra-right political forces like the National Journal, which are enamored with his views on factory farms.
"Nobody that I know of here that has any national or presidential hopes in mind," Dove said. "But we've faced up to some pretty stiff opposition, as well. And we have, most of the CAFO fighters here, in fact all the CAFO fighters here in North Carolina, have stood up to that. And I hope that same thing can be done in Indiana.
"I mean, these people can be beaten back. This is a system that is not sustainable. This system will fail. It's a question of how much damage has to occur before that takes place."
The 2010 Indiana CAFO Watch conference will also feature:
"These people can be beaten back." - Rick Dove
- Terry Spence, a second-generation farmer and livestock producer outside Unionville, Mo. He is co-founder and president of Family Farms for the Future and CLEAN (Citizens Legal Environmental Action Network) and an independent consultant for the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, which works with rural citizens and groups throughout the United States and Canada that are being impacted by CAFOs.
- Lynn Henning, a family farmer and Sierra Club Water Sentinel from rural Michigan who exposed the egregious polluting practices of CAFOs. She is the 2010 recipient of the Goldman Environmental Prize for North America.
- Jillian Parry Fry, a second-year Ph.D. student in the Health Policy and Management Department at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her current research interests include examining the impact of industrial food animal production sites on surrounding communities from a human rights perspective.
Steven Higgs can be reached at editor@BloomingtonAlternative.com.
For more information
- Indiana CAFO Watch