Op-Ed | Right to harm plays well in Peoria


Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water recently hosted the Midwest premiere of “Right to Harm” at the Peoria Riverfront Museum Giant Screen Theater. The film reveals the multiple externalities created by concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs. It is a gripping tale of pollution, public health battles, shameful political influence, social disruption and economic harm. The film reveals the damage fueled by agribusiness influence and the growth of industrial-sized “livestock warehouses” across America. The audience clearly identified with these issues, and the film played well in Peoria.

U.S. livestock produces 335 million tons of untreated sewage each year that is degrading public health and natural resources. This is 40 times the sewage produced by the entire human population in this country. The film opens the book on the legacy this waste has left on the doorsteps of rural America as it follows five families who suffer from polluted water and unbreathable air containing an “emission soup” of bacteria, viruses, gases, particulates and toxins. The storyline follows the same citizens from their homes to their local and state legislatures as people sacrifice work and family time to appear and demand a right to live a healthy existence in their own communities.

Right to Harm describes corporate “Right-to-Farm” laws that shield CAFOs under the guise of “standard agricultural practices.” These laws elevate the property rights of absentee agribusiness owners and constrain the rights of communities to defend their own properties. In so many cases these laws allow CAFOs to build and pollute above and beyond the legal limits already set for “non-farming” industries.

In “Right to Harm,” scientists, elected officials and economists discuss our professed “cheap food supply” and argue that when the true cost of this food production system is tallied, the sticker price is shockingly steep. And agribusiness downplays these real costs as they hide behind the skirts of traditional mother agriculture, disparaging other farmers or citizens who question or speak out for reform often labeling them as “animal rights activists or food terrorists.”

The drone footage of vast romaine lettuce fields shown adjacent to enormous CAFOs in California was shocking and bewildering. Where has common sense gone? Or better yet, who paid to throw away common sense?

A panel discussion featuring filmmaker Matt Wechsler and cast members featured in the film wrapped up the evening. A farmer in the audience described her personal struggle with a different take on the film’s title.

“I’m in a Fight To Farm!” she said.

A 5,000 head swine CAFO recently broke ground adjacent to her family’s organic farm even as she recovers from a cancer battle. Her physician warned her to avoid the emission plumes as she works on her own farm property. How will that be possible? Escaping indoors also carries a risk as research has discovered antibiotic resistant staph and other pathogens inside private homes downwind from swine barns.

Guest speaker and cast member Dr. John Ikerd’s words were chilling: “The only question remaining is if the economic rights of the agribusiness corporations will continue to take precedence over the basic human rights … of people.”

Editor’s Note: State Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, is chief sponsor of SB 1481 that would give county boards the power to prevent construction of a CAFO within the county.

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