The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) reports that it intends to sue a range of pork production companies involving their units in Iowa, North Carolina and Oklahoma. The animal rights group cites “unreported releases of hazardous pollutant ammonia” as the impetus for the legal action.

However, peppered within its own news release on Wednesday are multiple references to gestation-sow stalls, adding a new dimension to its tactics against the housing system. In fact, the news release led with the message, “Gestation crate facilities releasing tons of hazardous ammonia every day.”

HSUS identified the 51 production sites owned by the six companies after it “conduced months of research.” The HSUS told Pork Network that the group used “a simple and readily available mathematical equation to estimate the amount of ammonia being released from each of the facilities” that received notice. The equation, found on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) websites, considers the number and type of animals, as well as the waste-management practices to estimate the ammonia emissions from that production segment.

"In each case, the estimates from the emitting facilities were high enough that it was readily apparent that these facililites are emitting above the legal threshold," HSUS contends.

However, Allan Stokes, director of enviornmental programs for the National Pork Board (NPB) points out, "The equation EPA placed on its website was meant only as an aide for livestock producers and not as a regulatory tool or an absolute determinant of whether a livestock operation in fact exceeded any regulatory reporting thresholds."

Nor does the equation account for any ammonia mitigation techniques that might be in place on the farm. An HSUS representative told Pork Network that the group has not yet done on-farm emissions monitoring as it is too early in the process. However, he pointed to on-farm testing that HSUS conducted when it went to trial last year in the Olivera Egg Farm Case. “That resulted in a federal jury verdict of $500,000 for the neighbors of the facility on their nuisance related claims,” he notes.

Stokes also points out that EPA has not yet adopted final Emission Estimating Methods or EEMs for swine operations. "The entire purpose behind the National Air Emissions Monitoring Study (NAEMS), funded by industry and conducted under EPA direction and supervision was to provide data that EPA could use to establish credible EEMs," he says. "These have not yet been finally adopted."

HSUS says it is filing the letter of intent to sue in accord with the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA). HSUS argues that the pork production facilities in question "have not adequately reported their emissions as required by EPCRA.”

The “intent to sue” letters are required under EPCRA before litigation can begin. The plaintiff has a 60-day-notice period of the alleged violation before the case can be introduced in federal court.

The pork production companies HSUS cited in its intent to sue letter include: Christensen Farms & Feedlots, Iowa Select Farms, The Maschhoffs, Seaboard Corp., The Hanor  Company of Wisconsin and Austin “Jack” Decoster (Decoster Enterprises, Iowa Quality Farms and Galt Real Estate).

“These intensive pig confinement operations are a menace to the environment, to the community, and to the animals virtually immobilized in tiny gestation crates for nearly their entire lives,” says Jonathan Lovvorn, HSUS’ senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation. “The National Pork Producers Council’s (NPPC) record on environmental degradation is just as sordid as its record on the systemic mistreatment of animals.”

HSUS singled out NPPC in its release as having representatives from the production companies serve as leaders and spokespersons. While NPPC is reviewing the HSUS allegations in more detail, the council has provided and initial statement, which you can find by clicking here.

The Maschhoffs, headquartered in Carlyle, Ill., responded: "We are currently reviewing these allegations. The Maschhoffs prides itself on full compliance with all regulations, including proper reporting of required environmental information."