D.C.-based physicians group calls on Pillen to phase out ‘factory farms,’ help farmers grow climate-friendly crops

By: - January 9, 2023 5:53 pm
pillen billboard

A physicians group that supports a plant-based diet has erected a trio of billboards in Lincoln and Columbus urging Gov. Jim Pillen to phase out factory farms. (Courtesy of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine)

LINCOLN — A Washington, D.C.-based physicians group that advocates for a plant-based diet is targeting new Gov. Jim Pillen, a hog producer, with a trio of billboards.

The billboards, erected by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, criticize Pillen for the “Suffocating Stench” generated by “factory farms,” odors that prompted a lawsuit against Pillen’s pork production firm in 2000.

The physicians group, which says it has 35 members in Nebraska, is calling on the governor to phase out one of his hog confinement operations to set an example and to instead increase support for crops likes beans and sunflowers that require less water and are more “climate smart.”

‘Transition’ to other crops

In a letter to the recently inaugurated governor, Anna Herby, a spokesperson for the Physicians Committee, said that because of recent drought conditions in Nebraska, government assistance should be offered to “transition to growing lentils and other crops that use water more efficiently.”

The Governor’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.

But livestock production and growing corn for feed are among the leading aspects of the state’s agriculture industry, and transitioning away from them would be a major change.

Nebraska has more cattle than people, and ranks No. 2 in the nation for cattle on feed. And Pillen — the first Nebraska governor with an ag background elected in decades — has pledged to expand agriculture in the state.

Two billboards will be erected in Lincoln this week, according to the physicians group, with one going up in Columbus — Pillen’s hometown — during the week of Jan. 22.

Lawsuit over odor in 2000

In 2000, 18 residents who lived near some of Pillen’s hog-confinement operations in Nance and Boone Counties filed a lawsuit, alleging that the hog sites were a nuisance and that “unbearable” odors from them forced the neighbors to avoid outdoor activities at their rural homes.

The judge ordered the hog sites to take steps to mitigate odors.

The physicians committee also said that such large-scale livestock operations contribute to climate change because they produce methane, a potent planet-warming gas.

The group urged Pillen to apply for some of the $19 billion worth of grants offered in the Inflation Reduction Act passed by Congress recently to help farmers transition to more climate friendly crops.

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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.