Lawmakers to examine health, environmental issues of huge livestock farms

Indiana has more than 1,800 huge farms known as “confined feeding operations,” where hundreds or thousands of livestock are raised in tight quarters—sometimes just a few hundred feet from nearby houses.

Neighbors and environmentalists often complain about public health issues involving odors, sewage and pollution of nearby lakes and rivers.

On Wednesday, an Indiana House committee will hold a hearing on a bill that will address health and environmental issues of the massive farms.

The legislation, House Bill 1378, would give the Indiana Department of Environmental Management more authority to deny a permit to build or expand a farm, supporters say.

The law applies to “confined feeding operations,” or CFOs, defined as farms that have at least 300 cattle, 600 swine or sheep, 30,000 fowl or 500 horses, if the animals are confined at least 45 days a year.

Indiana is one the largest states in pork, chicken and egg production.

The bill would give IDEM the authority to deny a permit or a new or expanded CFOs if doing so “would substantially endanger public health or the environment, pose an undue risk to property or create a public nuisance.”

It would also prohibit new construction or expansion of the farms in flood plains, rocky terrain and other sensitive areas.

In addition, the bill would require farms to disclose outside corporations involved in the ownership and management of the operations, and written public notices to landowners within a mile of a proposed new or expanding farm.

Opponents of huge livestock farms have said the current laws have too many gaps and allow new megafarms to spring up without adequate regulation. Last year, a farm operation unveiled plans to open a 10,000-hog farm in Delaware County. IDEM approved the plan despite concerns from nearby residents over possible well-water pollution and the farm field application of manure produced in the site’s four barns.

The state has about 1,815 CFOs, down from about 3,000 two decades ago.

The Hoosier Environmental Council says the large livestock operations can have a huge impact on rural communities and the environment. The council plans to testify on the bill, and has posted a spreadsheet of all the large farms in the state. It said the state currently has no authority to regulate where CFOs can locate, has no authority to limit odors and air emissions, and has no authority to deny or revoke a permit.

But the Indiana Farm Bureau, which represents 70,000 farm families, said current law already gives IDEM sufficient authority to regulate the CFOs.

“The reality is, the regulations are written to be protective of human health and the environment, and to address all those issues,” said Justin Schneider, the farm bureau’s director of state government relations. “I think there’s a lot being made out of this. … I don’t think there’s a problem in the regulatory scheme.”

The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie; Rep. Thomas Saunders, R-Lewisville; Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis; and Rep. Ronald Bacon, R-Evansville.

The hearing will take place at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Room 156-A of the Indiana Statehouse.

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