"Pro- and anti- large-scale swine
operations groups are, to some degree, talking at cross-purposes,"
said Ann E. Reisner, associate professor of agricultural
communications and author of "Pigs and Publics," a study of Illinois
public opinion on the topic. Reisner's research was funded by the
Illinois Council on Food and Agricultural Research through its
five-year swine odor and waste management project.
The final reports of Reisner and other
researchers associated with the multi-university, interdisciplinary
project will be part of the U of I's Dec. 11-12 Pork Industry
Conference in Champaign. Those interested in learning more about or
attending the conference should contact Gilbert Hollis at (217)
333-0013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reisner's project examined articles
from 22 Illinois newspapers in 52 counties as well as surveying
farmers, residents of areas near large-scale swine operations and
stakeholders on their reactions to hog farm expansion after a period
of media attention had lapsed. The surveys had a 72 percent response
Across Illinois, efforts to block or
promote the expansion of hog farms have been in the news over the
past several years. Beginning in the 1990s, the large-scale swine
operations began to dominate the industry, and by 1998, 50 companies
controlled 60 percent of the hog inventory in the traditional
swine-growing states, according to information Reisner gleaned from
another study. The conflicts were often played out before county or
local zoning boards.
"Much of the active resistance to
large-scale swine farms has been neighbor against neighbor or at
least farmer versus community members," said Reisner. "Farmers who
favor expansion say it is the only way to save the state's hog
industry. Conversely, opponents will contend that the large-scale
operations will drive out 'family farm' operations that cannot
Reviewing the comments made newspapers
by both proponents and opponents during siting debates, Reisner
found some clear trends.
"Proponents of the large-scale
operations tend to focus on economics first, then the environment
and finally, legal or regulatory questions," she said. "The
proponents believe the large-scale operations make sense
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"Opponents focus first on the
environment, raising questions about air and water quality. The
second issue is the inverse of the proponents' economic argument.
Opponents contend the large-scale operations threaten the small-farm
economic structure they advocate. And, they too, focus on
Advocates of the large-scale operations
tended to argue that these units were actually safer environmentally
because advanced technologies, more specialized management and newer
facilities would be less likely to smell or leak manure into the
ground or surface water than older facilities. Opponents taking the
environmental grounds indicated fears that large-scale swine
operations would threaten the environment with air, water and soil
Interestingly, once the siting
controversies were settled, relatively few newspaper stories about
the large-scale operations appeared.
"The concern that newspaper articles
were emphasizing only the first stage of hog farm expansion led
directly to the next phase of our project: the survey of farmers,
residents and stakeholders and their reactions to the expansion
several years after the initial news coverage," said Reisner.
Residents were those living near the
large-scale swine operations. The stakeholder group included
journalists and local public officials, such as zoning board
Among the respondents, farmers with
large-scale swine facilities were more likely to consider the swine
industry an important part of the state's economy, while opponents
saw it as not important. However, she noted, a healthy number of
activists -- somewhere between 20 and 30 percent -- believed that
large-scale facilities could contribute to the economy.
"Zoning board officials, journalists
and residents fell in between the extremes of farmers and
activists," said Reisner. "However, all three groups tended slightly
toward the opponent's position with respect to the importance of
large-scale swine operations for Illinois."
When it comes to environmental issues,
farmers, zoning board officials and journalists tended to see the
large-scale facilities as not creating environmental problems.
were notably closer to the opponents' position in the view of
problems stemming from the large-scale operations," said Reisner.
of Illinois news release]