The CEO speaks of the environment, but the feedlot threatens a national treasure.
It’s not every day in America that a major corporation steps forward and admits that climate change is actually occurring. Greg Page, Cargill’s executive chairman and former CEO, recently acknowledged that changing weather patterns are not only man-made, but are wreaking havoc on the environment. Page was part of a panel of influential business leaders that published a report titled “Risky Business” — the first comprehensive U.S.-based look at the economic consequences of climate change.
Page oversees an international conglomerate whose reach extends to almost every agricultural commodity imaginable. Minnetonka-headquartered Cargill provides, processes, trades, buys and sells everything from cotton to pork. Page’s support for curbing the impact of climate change is consistent with the company’s stated environmental policy. Under the “Corporate Responsibility” banner on its website, Cargill says the company is “committed to nourishing the world’s population while at the same time protecting the planet.”
Considering this impressive stance on climate change and environmental health, Page may be unaware that one part of the planet, the Arkansas Ozarks, desperately needs protecting from Cargill itself. Recently, a Cargill-sponsored factory hog farm began operations in an environmentally fragile ecosystem just upstream from America’s first national river, threatening the “crown jewel of the Ozarks.” For those unfamiliar with the Buffalo National River, a congressional act in 1972 was passed to protect and preserve the pristine, 115-mile, spring-fed, bluff-lined waterway for future generations of Americans. More than 1 million tourists — many from the Twin Cities area — swim, fish, camp and canoe the river each year.
Hog farms are not new to the Buffalo River watershed, but in the past they have all been mom-and-pop businesses. This new farm is a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) of 6,500 pigs. The resulting annual 2 million gallons of untreated feces and urine are first held in leaky, clay-lined lagoons before being spread over fields next to Big Creek — the second-largest tributary on the Buffalo — and directly across from a public school. The waste produced is equivalent to that of a city of 35,000 people, about the size of Brooklyn Center.
The factory farm’s location makes it perilous to our first national river. Not only is it just a few miles upstream from the Buffalo, but it also sits on top of porous limestone rock known as karst geology. Whatever is spread on the ground seeps through the rock and into the underground water system and eventually into the river. Recent tests by the National Park Service in the vicinity show that counts of E. coli bacteria are 30 times higher than in previous recordings. Even Arkansas’s chief environmental officer, Teresa Marks, acknowledged in a New York Times article in December that pollution is inevitable.
Mr. Page, we appreciate your good sense of environmental health. We and many others applaud you as one of the few corporate executives to raise a concerned voice over the perils of climate change. But thinking “globally” should also be accompanied by “acting locally.”
In light of your environmental sensitivities, please consider the risky business in the Buffalo River watershed. This is not something that can be mitigated; there is too much at stake. Please take positive actions in line with the values you’ve clearly expressed and move Cargill’s 6,500 pigs to another part of the state or country that will not threaten a national treasure.
Jack Stewart is a vice president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and a national board member of the Audubon Society.
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