When someone is described as “a greater threat to the United States and democracy than bin Laden’s terrorist network,” people take notice. But when Robert F. Kennedy Jr. used these words last year, he wasn’t describing drug dealers or rogue nuclear nations. He was talking about pig farmers.
Kennedy made this outlandish comparison at the 2002 “Sustainable Hog Farming Summit,” hosted in Iowa by his activist group, the Waterkeeper Alliance. He brought this year’s conference to Gettysburg yesterday. Livestock farmers beware: Kennedy has declared war on the pork industry. He has serious financial backers, and they will stop at nothing less than your complete destruction.
Kennedy became involved with the environmental movement in the mid-1980s in an unusual way. He was a prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office—and an admitted heroin addict. In 1994, he was arrested for possession and sentenced to 800 hours of community service. He began volunteering for a “green” group that evolved into the flagship Waterkeeper organization.
By 2000, Kennedy had wrested complete control of the Alliance. Since then, he’s assembled a “dream team” of trial lawyers who want to subject pork producers to the same legal model made famous against tobacco companies. The plan? Sue producers over claims that they are ruining the environment.
And Kennedy’s lawyer-cabal won’t stop there. Referring to the beef and poultry industries, he has also warned: “We’re starting with hogs. After we get done with the hogs, then we’re gonna go after the other ones.”
In 2001, there were 2,900 hog operations in Pennsylvania, with cash receipts totaling almost $180 million. The American pork industry is responsible for more than 600,000 jobs and more than $64 billion in total domestic economic activity. If Kennedy and his gang are successful, hundreds of thousands of Americans—including thousands of Pennsylvanians—would be out of work. And Kennedy (through his private law firm) would reap millions and millions of dollars.
Why is Kennedy so intent on destroying this industry? He claims to crusade for the environment, but large-scale hog farms are the ones earning prestigious environmental awards. Smithfield Foods subsidiary Carroll Farms, for example, was the first livestock operation in the entire country to receive the prestigious ISO 14001 environmental certification.
Pennsylvania, already a model of environmental stewardship, just announced a $5 million initiative to improve the environment while providing economic opportunities. Pennsylvania Energy Harvest was unveiled at Rocky Knoll Farm. This 4,500-head hog producer—one of the large-scale operations Kennedy hopes to eliminate—has been using a methane digester to produce electricity since 1985. The output from all the state’s hogs and dairy cows could produce enough power to serve over 85,000 homes.
Every single state already has regulations in place mandating environmental standards for hog farmers, no matter their size. If Kennedy disputes their administration, why doesn’t he sue the government for non-enforcement? Or lobby for tougher laws?
Because those approaches won’t make anybody rich. Suing pork producers will. Kennedy has estimated that “damages” against the industry could be as much as $9 to $13 billion. Divvy up the lawyers’ share between the 11 firms on the Waterkeeper Alliance’s team (who each initially bought in for $50,000 apiece), and Kennedy’s own firm stands to gain at least a cool $200 million. Not bad for a guy who started out as a court-ordered volunteer. And not a bad return on a $50,000 investment.
Kennedy will dish[es] out a healthy portion of hog farming hysteria accompanied by demands for costly regulations.
Does Kennedy want to see American tables stripped of pork chops, ham, and bacon? Well, not quite. The conference promotes “sustainable” hog farming, touting the model used in Sweden—where pork prices hover around $12 per pound, 4½ times more than U.S. pork.
This is good news for Kennedy’s underwriters. Waterkeeper’s 2002 Iowa summit was partially bankrolled by Niman Ranch, which sells more “sustainable” pork and beef than just about anyone else in the country. The “organic” meat industry hasn’t convinced consumers to buy their meat in droves on its own, largely because their products are too pricey. Costly litigation would raise conventional pork prices, narrowing the price gap and making “natural” pork products seem less expensive by comparison.
The conference is a call to arms for activists. With panels titled “Agriculture and Activism in Pennsylvania,” and “Legal Developments and Opportunities for Activism,” Keystone state farmers and consumers should consider themselves warned. Big money is at stake, and most of it is yours. For now.