Many Nebraskans are very familiar with the concerns associated with large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO’s). GC Resolve has concerns too. Presently, Nebraskans are learning first hand about new extreme forms of vertical integration that threaten our culture through bad business practices now being forced on existing residents by retail giant, Costco.
Costco’s New Extreme Form of Vertical Integration Violates Nebraska Values By:
- Sending money out of state instead of keeping it with local farmers. 25% of the barns are owned by North Carolina poultry investors which means less care for our land.
- Bad contracts that put Nebraska farmers at serious risk. These industry contracts are similar to contracts that have bankrupted poultry growers in other states.
- Environmental Degradation. Large amounts of chicken litter put local water resources, and the public’s health at risk. Emissions from the massive barns also cause respiratory illness and further lead to rising greenhouse gas emissions. In a recent statement, the country's largest health association has joined Nebraskans in calling for a moratorium on CAFO's due to growing health concerns.
- Impeding on existing residents’ local control. Costco/LPP has lobbied to take away nuisance rights from Nebraska residents, and they have also lobbied to give preference to out of state electrical contractors over Nebraska businesses while weakening worker safety standards.
- Creating low-wage jobs that deteriorate Nebraska’s working middle class.
- Shifting liability and taxes from Costco/LPP towards farmer growers and Nebraska counties.
Residents from Omaha and surrounding communities come together for a rally outside of Costco in Omaha to protest the development of the project which would create low-wage jobs, increase water and air pollution, and put farmers' at risk from one-side industry contracts.
Costco’s proposed operation is unlike anything our state, or even country, has ever seen. The project would process over 420,000 chickens per day, with a feed mill and a hatchery, all located in a floodplain adjacent to the Platte River. Over 22 million chickens will be housed in approximately 520 barns spread out over Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa, all upstream from the Omaha and Lincoln metro areas, creating public health concerns as litter will produce excess nutrients that will leach into Nebraska waterways.
Costco barns locations inundate Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa communities threatening the public's health and our proud independent farming culture. Some of these sites feature as many as 32 barns (or 1,520,000 chickens).
This is NOT the first time we have seen large corporations try to force themselves into our state while hiding from a public discussion. In the recent past, business approaches from the meatpacking and the fossil fuel industries (such TransCanada) have exemplified unethical business practices that have put many Nebraskans at risk.
However, this new extreme form of vertical integration is unlike anything seen in U.S. history and is NOT in line with Nebraska Values. We need to ensure better standards to protect Nebraska farmers, rural families, and our communities. Here are the common-sense standards that we are requesting from counties and the state to provide much-needed safeguards for already existing Nebraska residents:
- No NEW ‘Large’ (as defined in state statute) CAFO applications until county regs have been updated in order ensure the public’s health and quality of life.
- Put a cap on the number of animals per operation. This should not influence family agricultural AFO (see Nebraska DEE definitions) operations. The larger industrial CAFO’s pose unique threats and should be viewed, handled, and regulated differently.
- Increase residential setbacks from CAFO operations to a minimal 3/4 mile and 1.5 miles from large CAFOs, and 2.5 mile setbacks from public use areas (schools, churches, communities, parks, recreation areas).
- Require at least one-month notice (prior to the county planning and zoning meeting) to all residents living within 3 miles of a proposed CAFO. Currently, locals are getting as little as 3 days’ notice, leaving longstanding residents scrambling for information.
- Require emission reporting for ammonia and other greenhouse gas emissions to protect public health, and better understand air quality impact. There are programs to help the county with this.
- Ground and surface water testing on all sources within 1/2 mile of operation and public reporting of their analytical results should be a required element of the initial application for a special permit.
- Projects should not be established in a flood plain. While this was initially promised by large poultry industry companies, these respective companies have since developed in flood plains on multiple occasions in our general area, which puts unnecessary health risks on local residents.
- An 'Environmental Impact Review' in a Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) on all Large CAFO's must be required prior to county process and public hearings.
- Nutrient Management Plan’s (NMPs) should require cover cropping on all farms applying litter, and buffer strips along all running waterways where litter is spread.
- The parent company must establish a decommissioning and disaster fund for liability. Industrial ag companies should guarantee their business practices so the liability is not put on the shoulders of the county or the farmer contract growers during project operation. This reserve should have a 5 to 1 asset to liability ratio. It must take into consideration types of livestock, size of CAFO, and their respective practices. In other industrial poultry communities, after the projects closed operation, the company just left the barns wasting away.
- Enact a ‘Haul Agreement’ so as more company trucks travel on county roads taxpayers are not liable for increased taxes to keep up and maintain roads. New taxes levied from industrial truck traffic should be paid by the respective parent company.
- The county should require Large poultry CAFO’s to have a detailed disposal and bio-security plan for dead birds if Bird Flu or other disease epidemics wipe out bird populations. We have seen unprepared states, such as Iowa as recently as 2015, suffer from lack of preparation in developing a clearly defined plan.
Health experts have begun to chime in. A John Hopkins University Research letter written to the Fremont Mayor and City Council highlights concerns to water quality and quantity from large poultry operations, and also raises concerns about air quality. Costco and publicly elected leaders have widely ignored these warnings.
During the great flood of 2019 the Costco Poultry Processing facility located at Fremont, NE was nearly engulfed by the rising waters. Poor planning, as seen in the above example, puts area residents at a public health risk during extreme climatic events, and further threatens area water quality.
A young woman walks her dog at Linoma Beach in the spring. This scene is becoming more common in Nebraska lakes and ponds and is caused by excess nutrient contamination from industrial agriculture. This site is within a mile from the City of Lincoln's Water Wellheads.
Barns hold up to 47,500 birds apiece. Most chickens will take anti-biotics and growth hormones in their early stages increasing the threat to Nebraska waterways with the introduction of resistant pathogens.
Nitrate levels in Nebraska have continued to increase with the growth of agriculture industrialization. Excessive nitrate exposure can cause health issues like Blue Baby Syndrome, which can be deadly in infants, and in some cases various forms of cancer, thyroid conditions, reproductive issues, and diabetes.
We Have A Better Solution To Ag, That Solution Starts With The Soil
Nebraskans are pro-agriculture, and pro-livestock. However, we just don’t believe in unethical farming that puts our health and quality of life at risk. We support independent family farmers and ranchers, not extractive industrial ag companies that prey on farmers and our resources alike. That is why we are calling for a redirection of ag to regenerative.
Regenerative agriculture focuses on improving soil health, which helps reduce rising greenhouse gas emissions, cleanses our water, and lessens the farmer’s dependence on synthetic inputs which improves their bottom line! Regenerative farming and ranching advocates for new rural entrepreneurial jobs around the food production system which will help revitalize our state. Regenerative agriculture also puts livestock front and center, and advocates increased biodiversity and well-managed grazing systems. The solution truly lies in the soil, and our future is regenerative.