Farm Progress

Having the Department of Health handle CAFO permits creates confusion because permits are based on environmental regulations, not on human health.

March 27, 2017

1 Min Read
HEALTH AND HOGS: A Department of Health hearing on a permit for a hog farm near Buffalo, N.D., drew a large crowd last year. Most of the speakers said they wanted the health department to deny the permit because of the farm’s potential effect on their health.

The North Dakota Legislature considered a bill this session to create a state Environmental Protection Agency.

Ordinarily, I couldn’t stomach the idea of creating another government agency. North Dakota is a small state with too much government per capita already.

But during the hearings for the Rolling Green swine farm near Buffalo, N.D., it was apparent that having the permit process handled by the North Dakota Health Department created a lot of confusion. I’d say eight out of 10 people who spoke at the public hearing talked about the damage that they believed a large hog farm would do to their health. Yet there’s little in the regulations about a confined animal feeding operation’s potential impact on human health. The regulations are mostly about setbacks, manure management, soil type and other technical environmental factors.

It really seemed to frustrate many people in Buffalo that the Department of Health couldn’t even consider the potential impact of the hog farm on their health.

Clearly, the North Dakota Department of Agriculture would be a more appropriate agency to handle CAFO permits, but most townspeople probably wouldn’t trust the department to be unbiased.

It pains me to say it, but perhaps North Dakota does need a state EPA. South Dakota has a Department of Environment and Natural Resources. Minnesota has its Pollution Control Agency. Or maybe changing the Department of Health’s name would be enough. Colorado has the Department of Health and Environmental Protection. That may help the public understand what’s going on when it comes to livestock permits.

The North Dakota Legislature should take up the issue again. A name change for the department would be a step in the right direction.

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