Anyone who has struggled to protect a community from the damage caused by an industrial livestock operation can attest that the task is exceptionally difficult, requiring courage, fortitude, and substantial investment of time, money, energy and effort. It's an uphill battle, a lopsided fight in which all odds are stacked in favor of industrial livestock proponents who enjoy the tremendous financial backing of agribusiness, political support from legislators bought by industry campaign contributions, lax oversight from industry-friendly regulatory agencies and in some cases, public support from individuals swayed by false promises of economic development. As a result, the sad but unsurprising reality is that those who fight to protect their families and communities from the devastating public health, environmental and socioeconomic impacts of industrial livestock operations often lose. But sometimes they win. And every so often, they win a great, monumental victory, proving that despite the wealth and power of its proponents, the industrial food system is not above the law - and not beyond reform.
Just before Thanksgiving, a victory of this magnitude occurred in Jo Daviess County, Illinois. It happened quietly, receiving little national coverage by the mainstream news media, and largely overlooked by good food advocates distracted by the holiday shuffle. But we all should've been singing about this from the rooftops - and though it's no longer breaking news, I'd be remiss if I didn't climb up onto the virtual shingles to spread the word. The unprecedented win: a small group of concerned citizens called Helping Others Maintain Environmental Standards (HOMES) successfully prevented industrial dairy magnate A. J. Bos from building what would have been the state's largest dairy - despite the fact that construction of the facility had already been more than halfway completed.
The significance of this event was perhaps best articulated by Danielle Diamond, attorney for the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water (ICCAW) and executive director of the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAProject), who said of the victory:
This is a true David and Goliath story. Never before in my work with communities trying to protect themselves from the devastating impacts of industrial animal factories have I seen a group of people successfully stop construction after groundbreaking. HOMES' commitment to stand up for their rights against all odds and against one of the most powerful corporate agribusiness industries in the country will inspire others standing in their shoes.
Why this matters: an overview of industrial livestock operations and why they make terrible neighbors
We've written extensively about industrial livestock production, and you can find more details about the issue on Sustainable Table, but here's a quick summary:
Industrial livestock operations, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or factory farms, are large-scale livestock facilities that confine hundreds (and in some cases, hundreds of thousands) of animals in cramped conditions without access to pasture. Despite the fact that these operations are known to damage the environment, threaten human health, degrade surrounding communities and compromise animal welfare, the US continues to rely on them to produce the vast majority of its meat, dairy and eggs. This situation persists because subsidies, negative externalities and a variety of additional economic market failures enable industrial livestock operations to generate large profits for a handful of powerful agribusiness corporations controlled by individuals who don't have to live next door.