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Massive Livingston County Hog Operation Plan Highlights CAFO Growth in Missouri

Waterkeeper Alliance Inc.
An aerial shot shows a concentrated animal feeding operation, and corresponding manure lagoon, in Sampson, N.C., in 2018.

Livingston County farmer Doug Doughty has long been invested in environmentalism, particularly as it relates to agriculture. So when a 10,500-hog operation was under consideration in his community, Doughty jumped into action.

Alongside community members and advocacy groups, including the Missouri Rural Crisis Center and Poosey Neighbors United, Doughty spoke out against the proposed concentrated animal feeding operation. He cited its potential impact on water quality within the Poosey Conservation Area and quality-of-living concerns raised by nearby residents.

As he wrote in a February editorial: “Hundreds of people from my area, farmers and rural citizens, are completely opposed to this foreign controlled CAFO fouling our water and air and property rights.”

JBS — a Brazil-based multinational company and the largest meat packer in the world — made its initial application in early 2020. The application was withdrawn in April 2021, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Doughty joined Tuesday’s St. Louis on the Air to discuss the debate in Livingston County alongside Rhonda Perry, executive director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Perry is a fifth-generation Missouri farmer. Her family raised pigs until 2002, when, she said, industry trends made it difficult for independent hog farmers to make money without a production contract with a large corporation.

“Our organization has particularly been concerned about the environmental impacts, but also the corporate control impacts, in the hog industry in particular,” Perry said. “What we've seen is — really in the last generation, in the last 30 years — an entire takeover of an agricultural industry through concentration, mergers, industrialization and buyouts. This type of system has clearly demonstrated that it puts family farmers out of business, pushes people off the land, extracts wealth from our communities, [and] pollutes our air and water.”

Hear the discussion
Rhonda Perry and Doug Doughty join St. Louis on the Air

But the Missouri Pork Association pushes back on those claims. About 90% of the hogs raised in Missouri are raised by members of the Missouri Pork Association, said the association’s executive director, Don Nikodim.

In a statement, Nikodim said large pork producers like JBS provide thousands of good-paying jobs for Missourians.

“While these companies have some foreign investment, they — like Bayer, Anheuser-Busch, Purina and several others — are publicly traded and ultimately owned by those who choose to invest,” he said. “Our members have a variety of business arrangements, and again, the focus is on those that make their living farming, raising pigs and advancing the pork industry. Some have production contracts and of those that don't, most will have some type of marketing contract [or] agreements. Such business arrangements are used to reduce risk and provide more financial stability" for the farmers.

He added that farmers have good incentive to protect the environment, even if they contract with a larger company. “Think about it, these farmers not only live in those communities, but they breathe the air, drink the water, and raise their families there,” he said. “The claims of the potential of manure leaking into the aquifer and nearby rivers and streams is little more than a scare tactic used by activist organizations.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Emily is the senior producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.