by David Ramsey
We reported last month that Gov. Mike Beebe, lawmakers, and various stakeholders were in discussion about the possibility of state-funded testing and monitoring on the C & H hog farm in Mt. Judea, which has sparked controversy because of its location by a tributary of the Buffalo River. The testing and monitoring would be conducted by water experts from the University of Arkansas and paid for via state rainy day funds, pending legislative approval. Now we're hearing murmurs that the idea may have hit a roadblock because of resistance from Cargill, which owns the hogs and is the farm's sole buyer.
Yesterday, I received an anonymous email from someone claiming to be a state legislator, which stated "it is my understanding that U of A, Farm Bureau, and the Farmers support the testing but Cargill isn't on board." I cannot confirm that this actually came from a legislator, though at least one person heavily involved in negotiations over the possible testing program said off the record that it had.
Matt DeCample, spokesman for Gov. Beebe, said, "We are starting to get some pushback from Cargill, so that's something to be worked out. [Cargill has] resistance to the idea of ongoing university monitoring...currently that's the biggest obstacle." DeCample said that governor's office had not spoken to Cargill directly but had heard from others involved in the negotiations that Cargill was resistant.
Cargill spokesman Mike Martin said that the company had not taken a position and was unable to comment until they saw an actual proposal.
"We have not taken anything off the table at this point. It it ultimately the property of the farm owners. It's ultimately their decision. In terms of how we feel about it, we'd have to analyze what's being proposed before we can comment. If the question is, 'Do we have some concerns about monitoring?' — the answer is that we would have to see what’s proposed because it depends on how it’s done and what’s being done, who’s doing it, who’s going to be involved in analyzing it, how it’s going to be reported."
The Arkansas Farm Bureau declined to comment specifically on Cargill's role. "Should all those involved agree that a third-party study is in the best interest of this family farm, we are certainly supportive of that effort," spokesman Steve Eddington said. "We understand those discussions are ongoing."
I was in Mt. Judea a few weeks back and asked C&H farmer Jason Henson about the possible testing program and he said it was "yet to be determined. It's up to several different people and groups." He said he was for it "because I think it will prove that everything we're doing is scientifically sound."
After the jump, the full anonymous email, signed "a concerned Arkansas legislator."
To Whom it May Concern:
There is an interesting rumor floating around the Capitol that Cargill is against the proposed water quality testing offered by the Governor and the UofA. It is my understanding that UofA, Farm Bureau, and the Farmers support the testing but Cargill isn't on board. The Farm Families are afraid to buck Cargill for fear of losing their contract and everything they own.
I can't get anyone to confirm this rumor. Beau Bishop with Farm Bureau and Mark Cochran with UofA both tell me that UofA is still working on a proposal. I'm not sure why Cargill is opposed but I hear Farm Bureau and the farmers want to know if the farm is polluting. They don't believe it is but want to fix it if it something isn't working.
I hope you can find out more but it sounds like Cargill is actually being the bully we all think they are.
A Concerned Arkansas Legislator