Proposals for Large Hog Operations Raise Questions
by Christopher Dodson
North Dakota Catholic Conference
Recent proposals for large-scale hog operations in the North Dakota have raised serious challenges for state and local officials. On the one hand, government and business leaders want to tap into what can be a lucrative agricultural venture. On the other hand, government, business, and community leaders have an obligation to look at any proposal and determine whether it will negatively impact the common good, the environment, or quality of life. When looking at these proposals, all involved should ask what their faith can contribute to the examination. For Catholics, the Church’s social doctrine has much to offer.
The Catholic Church does not teach that large-scale hog operations are, per se, morally wrong. Like any operation, we should judge such operations according to how they act, which may be good, bad, neutral, or a mixture of all three.
Such endeavors, however, are never completely detached from moral questions. Large-scale hog operations raise many moral and social justice issues. For example, the Catechism tells us that businesses are morally responsible for the environmental impacts of their operations. Do the business and governmental arrangements ensure that the business will always be liable for any environmental impacts? What kind of environmental impacts are acceptable? Does the operation reflect proper stewardship of God’s creation? Are the animals treated as gifts from God or mere instruments?
Local citizens and government officials must also look at health and welfare issues when a confined animal feeding operation is proposed. What will be the impact on air, water, and soil quality? Can odor problems be sufficiently mitigated? Will the operation refrain from nontherapeutic use of antibiotics, so as not to contribute the rapid development of bacterial resistance to antibiotics? What policies exist to protect the health of workers?
Speaking of workers, will the operation ensure a just and living wage? Will the operation attract low-income and immigrant workers and can the local community provide the resources needed to serve the new population?
Most of these issues touch upon the common good. Indeed, the most important question local leaders must ask is whether, even if most or all of the concerns can be addressed, the proposed operation is good for the community. Will it pit neighbor against neighbor? Will it generate ill feelings in the community?
Large hog operations are fairly new to North Dakota. Looking at other states with more experience with such projects we see that the industry has a troubled track record on these issues. We can also see that churches – often Catholic – have become very involved in raising concerns about large-scale hog operations.
The pork producing industry, however, can cite improvements in technology and community relations. New technologies can also help government agencies do a better job with site approval and with monitoring environment impacts. Churches and people of faith do not need to oppose every proposal for a large-scale hog operation. They should, however, ask the questions posed by our faith.