Proposed Legislation Could Serve As Boon For Controversial Hog Farm, Environmentalists Say

Mar 7, 2018

Arkansas Sierra Club Director Glen Hooks looks on as Ozark Society President David Peterson displays nitrate level data from the Buffalo National River's Big Creek tributary.
Credit Daniel Breen / KUAR News

A handful of Arkansas environmental advocacy groups are seeking to block legislation from being considered that could allow a controversial hog farm to keep operating.

Newton County-based C&H Hog Farms has come under scrutiny in recent years due to concerns over waste runoff into the Buffalo National River Watershed. The farm sits on Big Creek, a major tributary of the Buffalo.

Rep. DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio) has drafted a proposed bill that would clarify procedures for transferring a general permit to an individual permit by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality. Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, says this altering of Arkansas code could allow C&H to continue operating.

“It just so happens that the only facility that qualifies as having a general permit trying to transfer to an individual permit is C&H Hog Farms,” Watkins told reporters at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “Although C&H is not mentioned specifically in here, it’s obvious to us that that’s who it’s intended to protect.”

Watkins argues his criticism of Rep. Vaught’s bill is not borne out of an anti-agriculture stance; rather, the environmental impact of the farm is greater than its economic impact in the state, as it is under contract to São Paulo-based JBS S.A., the largest meat processing company in the world.

“While supporters claim it’s intended to protect farmers across Arkansas, it really is just a thinly veiled attempt to craft legislation to benefit a single, private swine operation, namely C&H Hog Farms, who are being directed by a giant Brazilian meatpacker,” Watkins said.

Watkins’s group, as well as the Ozark Society and the Arkansas chapter of the Sierra Club, is calling on Gov. Asa Hutchinson not to include Rep. Vaught’s bill in the upcoming special session of the Arkansas General Assembly. The groups also hand-delivered a petition with more than 2,000 signatures to the governor’s office as well as both houses of the state legislature.

The ADEQ rejected the farm’s bid for an operating permit in January, saying the application lacked critical testing information. Critics of the farm say its permit should have been rejected out of concern for the environment.

“We are for responsible agriculture, and we don’t believe that this is an example of responsible agriculture; putting a gigantic hog farm in the middle of the Buffalo River Watershed,” Arkansas Sierra Club Director Glen Hooks said.

Studies from the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture have shown an increase of nitrate levels in Big Creek downstream from the farm compared with upstream levels. Gov. Hutchinson has yet to release a list of bills up for consideration during the special session.

Rep. Vaught did not immediately respond to requests for comment.