Keeping Alaska Hog Farm-Free

When Richard Metteer began publicly pitching his vision for raising hundreds of thousands of hogs amidst some of Alaska’s most treasured ecosystems, he was met with protests from a diverse coalition of area residents.

Close-confinement hog systems create vast amounts of waste, which could devastate pristine Alaskan environments.© Duane Mangold / Iowa State University

Metteer’s project would produce 600,000 hogs a year for export to Asian markets. There’s money in it, because Alaska’s clean environment and lack of swine diseases appeal to Pacific Rim consumers wanting healthier pork. The "clean" pork project has been touted as a $300 million-a-year moneymaker and a boon to the local economy. Metteer tried to assure uneasy residents about the pollution so commonly associated with hog farms. He says he is "concerned" about the environment, and that he will incorporate "new industry technology and standards for handling the waste and odor, and for conserving water." But Metteer’s fellow Alaskans weren’t buying it.

In the wake of an outpouring of protest from local residents last year, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly passed an ordinance requiring among other things that a three-person task force evaluate all permit applications for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), facilities that house at least 1,000 hogs weighing 55 pounds or more. The Assembly recognized that "state and federal permits do not fully address the potential local impacts of CAFOs."

Bob Shavelson, executive director of Cook Inlet Keeper, says a broad range of residents spoke at public hearings about the environmental toll of hog waste on the Peninsula. "We had very powerful testimony based on industrial hog farm impacts in other parts of the U.S.," he says. According to Shavelson, wild salmon streams are plentiful on the peninsula and are a vital part of the local economy, a crucial factor in shutting down plans for the project.

Robert Ruffner, executive director of the Kenai Watershed Forum, puts residents" concerns in perspective. "The largest city on the Kenai Peninsula not on the coastline is Soldotna, which provides sewer service to less than 10,000 people. The best solution we have to deal with human waste is to treat it and place it in the world-famous Kenai River. If this is the best we can do with our own waste, it’s hard to believe we would do any more with animal waste."

Citing environmental concerns, a spokesperson from the Ninilchik Native Association told E that the organization "backed away" from the idea of leasing land to Metteer for the pork project.

Metteer declined to talk to E about his plans, but Roger Graves, manager of government and environmental affairs at the Port of Anchorage, says Metteer is talking to container shippers, who could provide delivery of meat to Korea, Japan and China.