White River Waterkeeper, an Arkansas group based in Harrison, has joined seven other groups in a federal lawsuit in Washington that aims to stop a U.S. Agriculture Department policy that exempts industrial animal operations that receive federal loans from undergoing an environmental review or providing notice of their operations to neighbors.

Jessie Green, director of the White River group, said in a statement:

“Public comment opportunities provide a chance to review and give feedback on localized environmental and human health concerns that are often not considered by agency reviewers. Poor environmental review and insufficient public notice are how we ended up with a large hog CAFO in the Buffalo River watershed. We can all agree that the most appropriate time for environmental concerns to be raised is prior to CAFO installation, before loans are disbursed and before families risk their financial well-being to enter the low-reward corporate agriculture scheme.” 

The USDA rule took effect in 2016 and affects “medium-sized” concentrated animal feeding operations — up to 125,000 chickens, 55,000 turkeys, 2,500 pigs, 1,000 beef cattle or 700 dairy cows. Lack of review has prevented rural communities from getting information, the suit contends. This, in effect, promotes factory farms over family farms, they say, and violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

The White River group says the government has allowed 40 operations in four Arkansas counties since 2016 without public comment or environmental assessment.

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Green’s statement continued:

“CAFOs leave farmers and rural communities on the hook for many of industrial agriculture’s negative impacts and take wealth out of local economies. According to 2012 USDA poultry census data, contract farmers accounted for 48 percent of broiler farms but 96 percent of production. Although growers invest the most capital in the operation, and work long, laborious hours to raise the animals, their profit margins are small. When environmental impacts come to light, contract growers often aren’t in the financial position to properly address concerns. Limiting environmental review and transparency on the front-end places farmers in a position to be blindsided by concerns after they are trapped with debt and unable to negotiate better contracts which would allow them to upgrade environmental controls. We don’t need more loopholes for corporations; we need a system that promotes independent farming and wealth for rural communities.”