Archive for Sunday, December 3, 2000

Critics say beware of Seaboard

December 3, 2000


The Elwood city council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on a plan changing the zoning on 160 acres of agricultural land adjoining the city limits to allow industrial uses.

The land is the proposed site of a controversial 4-million-hog-per-year packing plant operated by Seaboard Farms.

Seaboard Corp. is an agribusiness company with net sales of $1.3 billion, according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.The company produces pork in the United States for sale domestically and in Asia. It attributes its success to "vertical integration" of packing plants with company and contract farms in which Seaboard monitors all of the procedures and products affecting the hogs it will slaughter. The pork it sells in the United States and Asia is sold fresh.The company also buys and sells agricultural products in Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe, and it operates a Caribbean cargo shipping line and a power-generation plant in the Dominican Republic.Seaboard's corporate head-quarters are in Merriam.

Elwood, population 1,079, is about 90 miles northeast of Lawrence.

The city council, after three weeks of negotiations, entered into an agreement in late August with Seaboard. The city is contractually obligated to approve the zoning change, which has twice been rejected by the Doniphan County zoning board.

The turn of events floors those familiar with a similar plant in Oklahoma.

"Those people on the Elwood City Council have got to be the most mentally deficient people I've ever heard of," Oklahoma farmer Brett Fowler said when told the small Kansas city had entered an agreement with agribusiness giant Seaboard Inc. to open a hog processing plant.

"What the hell were they thinking?"

Fowler operates a 5,000-acre farm in Hooker, Okla. It's about 20 miles from Seaboard's plant in the Oklahoma panhandle town of Guymon.

He said Seaboard's plant and surrounding corporate hog farms are responsible for regional ills, including an increase in crime, declines in school quality, declines in environmental quality, creation of homelessness and a tuberculosis outbreak.

"You have everything to lose with Seaboard," Fowler said.

Seaboard officials promise the 160-acre plant will look like a park and that there will be no smell because the hogs are kept in indoor pens before slaughter.

"No way," company spokesman Gary Reckrodt said of the feared smell. "This is not your father's packing facility."

Brenda Kirkland, one of the leaders of Concerned Citizens of Doniphan County, isn't convinced.

"They answer our questions with a big sidestep," she said. "No one wants them. St. Joe told them no."

The St. Joseph, Mo., city council voted in late August to oppose a Seaboard plant there. The decision came after a citizens' group roused opposition to the plant in the city across the Missouri River from Elwood. By the time St. Joseph made its decision, the company announced Elwood was the leading candidate for the plant, a distinction St. Joseph held months earlier.

Reckrodt said the opposition had nothing to do with the decision to not go to St. Joseph.

"Elwood was always our first choice," he said.

Still, the Elwood plan calls upon 2,000 workers, and housing for them, to be found between St. Joseph and the area stretching to northern Kansas City, Mo.

Opponents worry that the company will import workers from Latin America to the plant. That's something Guymon-area critics say Seaboard continues to do in Oklahoma.

Reckrodt said the company has had to import workers into the Guymon area, which has a population of about 40,000. That won't be necessary in Elwood because the population within a 40-mile radius is about 250,000.

He said the company also has agreed not to open any hog farms in Doniphan County or Buchanan County, Mo.

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