concentrated animal feeding operationsIntroduction:

In Illinois, a large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) for pigs is proposed to take up eight acres of land in a rural county. There are some rules pertaining to livestock confinement areas provided by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), but they are somewhat lacking. See, e.g., Debra Chandler Landis, “Illinois Issues: Big Swine Operations Put Residents, Pig Farms At Odds,” Tristates Public Radio, Jul. 5, 2017, at http://tspr.org/post/illinois-issues-big-swine-operations-put-residents-pig-farms-odds (last visited July 6, 2017). The debate may have nationwide implications, or at least potential effects on other concentrated feeding operations and there are two sides to the story, which may lead to battles in the courts.

Discussion:

On one side of the issue are certain residents and those who represent environmental interests. They have made several allegations about the pig confinement area in question. See, e.g., id. One analyst explains the opposition’s claims against the proposed project; opponents to the project claim that “CAFOs can hurt property values and contribute to pollution and other environmental problems, question the impact of the proposed facility on 40 houses and cabins within two miles of the proposed facility, as well as roads and nearby ponds. Opponents also question whether the site complies with ‘setback’ rules requiring that facilities with 7,000 or more animals be at least a half mile from an occupied residence and a mile from populated areas.” Id. These claims may result in litigation to prevent the erection of the facility, which will certainly entail the assistance of attorneys in the field. These attorneys, in turn, would be wise to rely upon expert witnesses for guidance. The types of experts who will be instrumental in parsing out this prospective legal issue include real estate experts, environmental experts, infrastructure experts, and experts on issues of government regulation, to name a few. Certainly, because of the myriad allegations made by the opponents of the proposed CAFO, various individualists who specialize in diverse fields will likely be called upon, in the event that litigation ensues.

There is a state regulation that requires CAFOs that house seven thousand or more animals to be at least half a mile from occupied residences and a mile from “populated areas.” See id. According to the management company, which operates several of these types of confined housing enterprises, it is in compliance with that regulation. See id. It has already applied for a permit to build and operate the facility from the IDOA. See id. The CAFO could receive approval as early as late this summer. See id. Proponents of the facility argue that there has been a sharp increase in the demand for pork on a domestic and international scale, and that such commercial facilities are the only way to meet this demand. See id. Moreover, according to proponents of these confinement areas claim that “they offer safe, efficient and cost-effective means to raise pigs and that the pork industry creates jobs and boosts tax dollars for local communities and the state… .’The pork industry is a vital part of our local and state economies, contributing more than $1.8 billion annually to the state’s economy in addition to generating more than $170 million in taxes,’ says Jennifer Tirey, executive director of the Illinois Pork Producers Association, noting that pork production generates farming jobs, as well as employment in feed and equipment operations, transportation and processing. Hogs also consume millions of bushels of corn and soybean, the pork association says, thereby aiding the grain market.” Id. Other states may face similar dilemmas over what to do with an industry that creates jobs and revenue, while balancing other interests, such as the potential pollution, a decrease in local property values, and other issues.

Both sides of the controversy seem to agree that part of the problem may lie with somewhat of a lack of guidance in the “setback” and other rules issued by the IDOA. See id. Whenever regulatory confusion arises, courts are often the place where such issues get sorted out and where aggrieved parties turn to for assistance.

Conclusion:

This issue has broader implications than simply the controversy over one pig confinement feeding area, as similar questions may arise across the country in rural America. Moreover, depending on federal and/or state regulations, or lack thereof, it is foreseeable that the conflicts which arise will be left to the discretion of the courts. In such cases, attorneys in the field should retain experts to assist fact-finders in making fair decisions on these matters.