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Rural Residents Push Factory Farm Legislation

NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS
Cindy Bonnet lives in Nora, Ill.

Ten years ago, Cindy Bonnet found out she was getting new neighbors in Nora, Illinois: 10,000 cows. It’s what’s known in the industry as a “concentrated animal feeding operation,” or CAFO: basically a big cow warehouse, with a giant trough under it to catch their waste.

Bonnet says a California businessman was behind the venture.

“You know that’s what bothered us, that he wasn’t even going to be farming there and actually going out milking the cows himself. He was gonna hire someone else to do it, ” she said.

The farm was built despite the neighbors’ objections. Then, Bonnet says, came a purple runoff EPA officials traced back to the CAFO. “It produces like juices, and they have a storage pond for it. It’s worse than sewage,” she said.

Democratic lawmakers with districts in Central Illinois say they’re sponsoring several pieces of legislation to deal with a number of problems related to CAFOs. Senator Dave Koehler of Peoria is sponsoring legislation to address concerns over water and air pollution. He says there are many CAFO’s across the state that are not even registered.

“Rural Illinois deserves to know what’s really going on in their community. They deserve to know if their health is at risk. They deserve to know what these facilities are or are not doing to protect their health and their environment.”

Common complaints from neighbors and environmental groups include noxious odors, sinking property values within 1.5 miles of a CAFO, airborne illnesses, and groundwater contamination.

Residents like Bonnet, many of whom are farmers themselves, point the blame at the Illinois Farm Bureau, which they say has sided with the CAFO industry, and the state’s Department of Agriculture.

Farmers from Fulton County voiced their opposition at public hearings before a new CAFO site was built. They say the decision was ultimately left to county officials, and the hearing decision was nonbinding and ignored.

The Department of Agriculture declined to comment on the complaints of public hearings on CAFOs. A spokesperson emailed the following statement. “The [law] requires the Department to review all relevant materials and testimony before making a final decision. If a proposal is in compliance with the rules and requirements set forth in statute, it will be approved.”?

Tom reports on statehouse issues for NPR Illinois. He's currently a Public Affairs Reporting graduate program student at the University of Illinois Springfield. He graduated from Macalester College. Tom is from New York City where he also did stand-up and improv and wrote for the Awl and WNYC public radio.
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