MEXICO CITY, Mexico— Conservation groups, scientists, doctors and public-health experts filed a legal brief with Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation today supporting constitutional claims raised by Mayan children who oppose approval and operation of an industrial animal operation in the Yucatán Peninsula.
The lawsuit challenges a decision by Mexican authorities to permit a 49,000-hog industrial animal operation in an ecologically sensitive area near the Mayan town of Homún. The decision to allow the massive facility, despite risks to air and water quality and human health, violates the Mayan children’s rights to a healthy environment and to autonomy as Indigenous people, according to the suit.
The case, which has resulted in the suspension of the facility’s operations, is set to be heard by the Mexican Supreme Court later this year.
“Pollution from industrial pig operations has already disproportionately degraded huge swaths of Indigenous land and water in the Yucatán Peninsula,” said Hannah Connor, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Adding another mega-operation will overwhelm this fragile ecosystem with farm-animal excrement and noxious gases.”
The friend-of-the-court brief filed today details substantial scientific evidence about the grave and irreversible harms to human health and the environment associated with industrial hog operations. These harms include contamination of water, including naturally occurring freshwater wells known as cenotes, emission of noxious air pollution, the spread of dangerous pathogens and contribution to climate change.
Many of the parties joining the amicus brief are also authors of scientific literature cited in the brief.
“Numerous scientific studies provide evidence that industrial hog operations release contaminants into neighboring communities, where they affect the health and quality of life of neighbors. Such operations have been associated with increases in wheeze and asthma symptoms, blood pressure and stress and anxiety among residents living nearby,” said Dr. Jill Johnston, an assistant professor of preventive medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine who joined the amicus brief.
Industrial animal operations are notorious polluters. The particular operation at issue in this lawsuit is expected to generate over 600 million pounds of urine and feces each year, more than is generated by the entire human population of Tijuana. That waste will be stored in uncovered pits and then disposed of on nearby fields, a practice employed by many industrial animal operations in the United States.
“The Yucatán Peninsula is frequently impacted by hurricanes, which will likely cause this facility’s waste pits to overflow,” said Dr. Ana María Rule, an assistant professor of environmental health and engineering and director of the exposure assessment lab at Johns Hopkins University who joined the amicus brief. “It has happened in the United States several times in recent years, and there is no reason to believe it will not happen in the more fragile and unique ecosystem of the Yucatán Peninsula.”
In fact, as documented in the Greenpeace report The Meat That Is Consuming the Planet, the unchecked growth of industrial hog operations has already degraded the air, soil and water of the Yucatán Peninsula. Those harms will be exacerbated if the challenged facility is allowed to operate without advanced waste management technology.
“Industrial livestock puts our health and the health of the environment at risk. This type of intensive production is close to population centers and cities, resulting in increased exposure to disease. That is why we must seek a transition from the agro-industrial model toward agro-ecological, sustainable and healthy production that respects the cycles of nature and guarantees respect for the rights of people,” said Viridiana Lazaro, food and agriculture campaigner for Greenpeace Mexico.
The Yucatán Peninsula is host to four sites protected by the Ramsar Convention, an intergovernmental treaty that protects spectacular wetlands: Laguna de Terminos, Ring of Cenotes Geohydrological Reserve, Laguna de Yalahau State Park and Ría Celestún Biosphere Reserve.
The Ring of Cenotes Geohydrological Reserve, located in Homún on a site of global and ecological importance, is especially vulnerable to pollution from the challenged operation. The cenotes in the reserve are home to endangered and threatened species, including three fish, the Mexican blind brotula, blind swamp eel and Yucatán molly.
The cenotes also provide resting areas for waterfowl during their migration south and vital habitat for native species such as the Yucatán box turtle, Yucatán mushroom-tongued salamander, Ridgway's rough-winged swallow and Yucatán jay.
“Mexican and international law require authorities to apply the precautionary principle, and the message of the precautionary principle is clear: We must stop unacceptable risks before harm occurs,” said Guillermo Zúñiga Martinez, an attorney with Earthjustice. “Industrial hog operations poison workers and communities, and they threaten the Yucatán Peninsula’s unique environment. Authorities shouldn’t wait for children to get sick before acknowledging what everyone knows to be true: Advanced waste-treatment technology is necessary to protect people and the environment, and this facility must adopt functional advanced technology before operations resume.”
Last month the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace Mexico submitted a separate formal request to Mexican authorities urging that they respect the sovereign right of Indigenous communities under Mexican law and basic human rights, including self-determination and consultation, on the permitting and operation of industrial hog operations in the states of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo.
The groups asked that the government accept a regional complaint from 21 Mayan communities requesting a moratorium on all approvals of new industrial hog operations and expansions of existing operations until the rights of the Mayan people and ongoing damage to air and water quality, biodiversity and human health are respected and resolved.
“Extensive scientific research has documented that industrial-scale pig confinement operations using waste pits and land disposal can contaminate groundwater, pollute surface waters, and emit hazardous gases into the air,” said Kelly Hunter Foster, Waterkeeper Alliance senior attorney. “It is well established that these outdated practices pose substantial threats to people and natural resources.”
Earthjustice filed today’s brief on behalf of itself, the Center for Biological Diversity, Coastal Carolina Riverwatch, Greenpeace Mexico, Waterkeeper Alliance and experts Larry Baldwin, Dr. Lawrence Cahoon, Dr. Meghan Davis, Dr. Mike Fliss, Dr. Jill Johnston, Dr. Robert S. Lawrence, Bob Martin, Dr. Arbor J.L. Quist, Dr. Ana María Rule, Dr. Kendall Thu, Dr. D’Ann Williams and Dr. Sacoby Wilson.