I am an opponent of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) and have made that position clear in the past. Governor Daniels and Lieutenant Governor Skillman have made it their priority to double pork production in the next few years, and, through their support of minimizing regulatory restrictions requiring CAFOs to provide manure disposal plans, the industry is well on its way to accomplishing that goal.
However, a new Ball State study shows the pork industries in Jay and Randolph counties are virtually irrelevant to the local economy. This is anything but good news to those who support the notion that CAFOs are great for the economy and generate much-needed economic benefits which outweigh the environmental dangers.
The reason the CAFO industries have little or no effect? Easy, the corporate entities that run the vertically-integrated operations don’t buy locally, and the cloven-hoofed animals are shipped elsewhere for processing, thus denying local businesses the opportunity to profit not only at the front end but also at the tail end of the process. Feed is purchased from the cheapest sources outside the region, and most major purchases come from the outside. The money that is made is sent right back outside the region. But there is one product that the CAFO industry has been kind enough to leave in the region: manure.
In addition, since CAFOs are structured to use a minimal amount of labor, the operations don’t even generate much-needed jobs. What little employment is produced requires workers to be exposed to hazardous gases and toxins, thus limiting any “job creation” benefit that might occur.
As can be expected, Deb Abbott, a spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Agriculture, dismissed the idea that CAFOs fail to generate economic benefit. She was joined, naturally, by Michael Platt, executive director of of the Indiana Pork Producers who called the Ball State study flawed. His allegation? The reporting of low average wages was inaccurate. No challenge to the fact that the corporations spend their profits outside the region, no challenge to the fact that CAFOs produce very little employment, and no challenge to the fact that CAFOs do not generate significant economic benefits to the region.
The Governor’s great plans to use “breakthrough technology” to double hog production may very well work; however, his vision of generating any economic benefit triggered by that same technology may very well fail.