A new framework proposes tough, science-based environmental rules for pork production. But will these suggestions find a home?

Like a tidal wave, tough environmental regulations for pork units are engulfing the nation. They may already affect your ability to produce pork. They certainly may alter your business in the future.

With that in mind, the pork industry is moving to head off arbitrary and intolerable environmental rules. The latest step is the National Environmental Dialogue on Pork Production, convened by America’s Clean Water Foundation.

The result is a document, the “Comprehensive Environmental Framework for Pork Production Operations.” In its current form, it is a guideline, a list of recommendations on how pork operations should be run. The points don’t carry the weight of law, but participants see them as a blueprint for federal, state and local regulators.

The goal is to create more-consistent environmental rules nationwide instead of patchwork legislation. Another goal is to protect the environment and your right to produce pork profitably.

Here are some key aspects the framework endorses:

1. The framework would apply to all commercial pork operations of any size.

2. The points would apply immediately to all new and expanding pork production operations. All existing operations would have five years to comply.

3. Siting of new or expanded operations would have to address the potential cumulative effects of pollution associated with pork production within a watershed.

4. Facility setbacks would have to protect homes, schools and hospitals from odor and both surface and groundwater pollution.

5. Reverse setbacks, which limit where and what type of building your neighbors could build, will protect you from urban encroachment.

6. Regulations would expand to include rules on land application of manure.

7. You could apply manure to cropland only after nutrient testing and soil sampling occurred – and then only in accordance with approved nutrient management plans.

8. Manure application rates would be restricted on soils that exceed established thresholds for phosphorus.

9. If you close a site, you would be required to guarantee the full cost of closing lagoons and manure basins and disposing of the contents.

  10. All operators would be certified and all employees and contractors would be trained in manure management.

  11. Producers who implement and follow all recommendations would be shielded from frivolous nuisance suits.

Persons filing suits would need to prove the operation unreasonably and continually interferes with their use and enjoyment of the property. They also would have to prove that any injury or damage is caused by negligent operation of the hog facility.

Before you throw up your hands in despair or nod in agreement, keep in mind these proposals aren’t laws.

“These are recommendations,” says Deb Atwood, National Pork Producers Council assistant vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs. “They have no authority unless adopted by the appropriate regulatory agencies.”

Many agencies are looking for solutions, just as producers, the public and environmentalists are. This document is a place to start.

“We hope the dialogue report is where people turn first,” Atwood explains.

Still, there’s no guarantee all or any policy makers will follow these suggestions. That’s the framework’s weakness. NPPC and producers supporting the dialogue must sell the concept to you and other producers as well as to state and federal regulators.

That’s a tough chore, notes Gary Margheim, acting associate chief of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Margheim participated in the dialogue meetings. Though fair and balanced, the guidelines are harsher than most of you have ever faced.

Still, in the give-and-take process, Margheim contends a fair and reasonable document was formed. “It represents a lot of negotiations and, ultimately, consensus,” he adds. The question is how receptive other groups will be to this compromise.

To gain support, producers who got involved in the framework are now on the state-meeting circuit working to inform the industry.

Some federal agencies seem to be taking the dialogue suggestions seriously.

“At USDA, we’re very supportive of the study,” Margheim says. “There are things we don’t entirely agree with. Our departments have relied heavily on voluntary efforts. This has a heavy regulatory component. Still, we will use it as a guiding document to evaluate our technical standards and to identify areas needing additional research.”

The dialogue report is influencing groups putting together major pieces of environment policy, notes Ellen Hankes, a Fairbury, Ill., producer who represented the pork industry at dialogue meetings. Members of key agencies sat in on the meetings and are taking some of the suggestions back to help formulate policy. Here are three such examples:

1. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Animal Feeding Operations Enforcement Compliance Initiative will define oversight of livestock feeding operations.

2. Vice President Al Gore has directed federal agencies to develop a Clean Water Action Plan by Feb. 14. Several aspects of that plan will apply to livestock producers.

3. EPA’s National Effluent Guidelines will have significant ramifications for you and other livestock producers. The project will start with pork and poultry operations, then take a look at beef and dairy operations.

“Even if the framework itself crashes and burns, these initiatives are works in progress and will include elements generated from the dialogue,” Hankes says.

To gain a consensus, the dialogue sought to bring together policy makers, producers and environmental groups. But some environmental groups declined. Feeling they wouldn’t be heard – or perhaps not get their way – they left the process. That may take some of the wind out of the dialogue’s sails, but Atwood contends the environmental groups missed a golden opportunity to be part of a solution.

The pork industry may have scored important public relations points just for participating and addressing environmental issues with USDA and EPA.

“It shows we want to work with people who have concerns about pork production and the environment,” Hankes says. “This is a way for the industry to constructively address such concerns and to find solutions.”

Time To Speak Up

It’s unlikely you’ll agree with every recommendation in the “Comprehensive Environmental Framework for Pork Production Operations.” It is the result of compromises, so no one got everything their way.

But you can still see that you get in your 2 cents worth.

In the political atmosphere of the 1960s and 1970s, the Silent Majority may have influenced policy, but these days the squeaky wheels usually determine the outcome. You may be best served by getting a copy of the framework report, reviewing it and sharing what you think.

You can log on to the National Pork Producers Council’s Web site at www.nppc.org to get a summary or a copy of the report. Or you can call America’s Clean Water Foundation at (202) 898-0908.

Read the proposal, decide if you support it or which parts you don’t support. Then inform the pork industry and federal, state and local policy makers how you feel.

You can contact NPPC at (515) 223-2600, send a fax to (515) 223-2646 or e-mail them at pork@nppc.org with comments or questions.

Don’t forget to share your comments with your state and congressional representatives and water-quality regulators as well. You can still make your voice heard.

Don’t let the environmental regulations move ahead without your input. One lesson is obvious: Keeping quiet is no way to get a fair shake in the 1990s.