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Neighbors, The HSUS Challenge Massive Minnesota Sow Facility’s Water Permit

State Agency Ignored Its Own Expert’s Concerns about Water Quality Threats

Neighbors of a newly built sow breeding facility have joined with The Humane Society of the United States in seeking to overturn the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ decision to allow the factory farm to take more than eight million gallons of groundwater per year.

The factory farm, located in Todd County, Minn., is owned by Iowa-based Gourley Bros. LLC. The facility plans to confine nearly 4,000 pigs and piglets into a single building. The majority are pregnant pigs confined for essentially their entire lives in gestation crates, cages so small they prevent the animals from even turning around.

“Industrialized sow facilities that lock pigs into gestation crates harm animals, neighbors and the environment. Squeezing thousands of animals into one building forces neighbors to endure concentrated odor, massive strain on water supplies, and potential water contamination from mountains of manure,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel for animal protection litigation at The HSUS.

Neighbors of the facility opposed the permit because of potentially life-threatening pollution of the water supply. Elevated nitrates have already been found in wells near the Gourley facility. There is a danger that the facility’s operation may lead to even greater levels of nitrates. Elevated nitrates can cause fatal methemoglobinemia (sometimes known as blue-baby syndrome). High nitrate levels in well water near animal operations have also been linked to spontaneous abortions in humans. The agency granted the permit without even commenting on any of these risks.

The petitioners are represented by Eckberg Lammers and The HSUS is also represented pro bono by Shearman & Sterling LLP.


  • The Gourley facility is surrounded by freshwater emergent wetlands.
  • Water bodies that run near and through the Gourley property and places where Gourley plans to apply manure feed into Lake Osakis, which is designated as impaired.
  • Nine U.S. states have passed laws to ban gestation crate confinement of breeding pigs.
  • Renowned animal welfare scientist and advisor to the pork industry, Temple Grandin, Ph.D., is clear on this issue: “Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life.” Grandin further states, “We’ve got to treat animals right, and the gestation stalls have got to go.”
  • Leading pork producers Smithfield and Hormel have pledged to end the use of gestation crates at their company-owned facilities by 2017, and Cargill is already 50 percent crate-free. Meanwhile, many traditional family farmers have avoided using gestation crates for generations.
  • In a 2013 survey by the National Pork Board, 53 percent of pork producers said they do not use gestation crates or plan to stop using them in favor of the group housing of sows.


Media Contact: Anna West: 301-258-1518; awest@humanesociety.org