Monday, September 21, 2009

Wisconsin CAFOS in the News: "New York Times" & "Isthmus" Articles

Yes, Wisconsin is making the "big time" news. I don't think this is the kind of news they would like, though. For those who questioned my worry about living near a CAFO, please read these articles. No one should have to live nearby these polluting, big ag supported waste factories. It is inhumane on every level. Do we really need to "beat" California as the producers of milk at the expense of our health? I think not. Think about these articles the next time you are drinking non-organic milk or eating store bought, non-pasture raised beef, chicken or pig. We are the change. Eat with a conscious. Every dollar you spent makes a difference.

Thank you to Crawford Stewardship Network for keeping us informed & emailing these articles to their members
The New York Times

September 18, 2009
Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells

MORRISON, Wis. — All it took was an early thaw for the drinking water here to become unsafe.

There are 41,000 dairy cows in Brown County, which includes Morrison, and they produce more than 260 million gallons of manure each year, much of which is spread on nearby grain fields. Other farmers receive fees to cover their land with slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage.

In measured amounts, that waste acts as fertilizer. But if the amounts are excessive, bacteria and chemicals can flow into the ground and contaminate residents’ tap water.

In Morrison, more than 100 wells were polluted by agricultural runoff within a few months, according to local officials. As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.

“Sometimes it smells like a barn coming out of the faucet,” said Lisa Barnard, who lives a few towns over, and just 15 miles from the city of Green Bay.

Tests of her water showed it contained E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants found in manure. Last year, her 5-year-old son developed ear infections that eventually required an operation. Her doctor told her they were most likely caused by bathing in polluted water, she said.

Yet runoff from all but the largest farms is essentially unregulated by many of the federal laws intended to prevent pollution and protect drinking water sources. The Clean Water Act of 1972 largely regulates only chemicals or contaminants that move through pipes or ditches, which means it does not typically apply to waste that is sprayed on a field and seeps into groundwater.

As a result, many of the agricultural pollutants that contaminate drinking water sources are often subject only to state or county regulations. And those laws have failed to protect some residents living nearby.

To address this problem, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has created special rules for the biggest farms, like those with at least 700 cows.

But thousands of large animal feedlots that should be regulated by those rules are effectively ignored because farmers never file paperwork, E.P.A. officials say.

And regulations passed during the administration of President George W. Bush allow many of those farms to self-certify that they will not pollute, and thereby largely escape regulation.

In a statement, the E.P.A. wrote that officials were working closely with the Agriculture Department and other federal agencies to reduce pollution and bring large farms into compliance.

Agricultural runoff is the single largest source of water pollution in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the E.P.A. An estimated 19.5 million Americans fall ill each year from waterborne parasites, viruses or bacteria, including those stemming from human and animal waste, according to a study published last year in the scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

The problem is not limited to Wisconsin. In California, up to 15 percent of wells in agricultural areas exceed a federal contaminant threshold, according to studies. Major waterways like the Chesapeake Bay have been seriously damaged by agricultural pollution, according to government reports.

In Arkansas and Maryland, residents have accused chicken farm owners of polluting drinking water. In 2005, Oklahoma’s attorney general sued 13 poultry companies, claiming they had damaged one of the state’s most important watersheds.

It is often difficult to definitively link a specific instance of disease to one particular cause, like water pollution. Even when tests show that drinking water is polluted, it can be hard to pinpoint the source of the contamination.

Despite such caveats, regulators in Brown County say they believe that manure has contaminated tap water, making residents ill.

“One cow produces as much waste as 18 people,” said Bill Hafs, a county official who has lobbied the state Legislature for stricter waste rules.

“There just isn’t enough land to absorb that much manure, but we don’t have laws to force people to stop,” he added.

In Brown County, part of one of the nation’s largest milk-producing regions, agriculture brings in $3 billion a year. But the dairies collectively also create as much as a million gallons of waste each day. Many cows are fed a high-protein diet, which creates a more liquid manure that is easier to spray on fields.

In 2006, an unusually early thaw in Brown County melted frozen fields, including some that were covered in manure. Within days, according to a county study, more than 100 wells were contaminated with coliform bacteria, E. coli, or nitrates — byproducts of manure or other fertilizers.

“Land application requirements in place at that time were not sufficiently designed or monitored to prevent the pollution of wells,” one official wrote.

Some residents did not realize that their water was contaminated until their neighbors fell ill, which prompted them to test their own water.

“We were terrified,” said Aleisha Petri, whose water was polluted for months, until her husband dumped enough bleach in the well to kill the contaminants. Neighbors spent thousands of dollars digging new wells.

At a town hall meeting, angry homeowners yelled at dairy owners, some of whom are perceived as among the most wealthy and powerful people in town.

One resident said that he had seen cow organs dumped on a neighboring field, and his dog had dug up animal carcasses and bones.

“More than 30 percent of the wells in one town alone violated basic health standards,” said Mr. Hafs, the Brown County regulator responsible for land and water conservation, in an interview. “It’s obvious we’ve got a problem.”

But dairy owners said it was unfair to blame them for the county’s water problems. They noted that state regulators, in their reports, were unable to definitively establish the source of the 2006 contamination.

One of those farmers, Dan Natzke, owns Wayside Dairy, one of the largest farms around here. Just a few decades ago, it had just 60 cows. Today, its 1,400 animals live in enormous barns and are milked by suction pumps.

In June, Mr. Natzke explained to visiting kindergarteners that his cows produced 1.5 million gallons of manure a month. The dairy owns 1,000 acres and rents another 1,800 acres to dispose of that waste and grow crops to feed the cows.

“Where does the poop go?” one boy asked. “And what happens to the cow when it gets old?”

“The waste helps grow food,” Mr. Natzke replied. “And that’s what the cow becomes, too.”

His farm abides by dozens of state laws, Mr. Natzke said.

“All of our waste management is reviewed by our agronomist and by the state’s regulators,” he added. “We follow all the rules.”

But records show that his farm was fined $56,000 last October for spreading excessive waste. Mr. Natzke declined to comment.

Many environmental advocates argue that agricultural pollution will be reduced only through stronger federal laws. Lisa P. Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator, has recently ordered an increase in enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary, has said that clean water is a priority, and President Obama promised in campaign speeches to regulate water pollution from livestock.

But Congress has not created many new rules on the topic and, as a result, officials say their powers remain limited.

Part of the problem, according to data collected from the E.P.A. and every state, is that environmental agencies are already overtaxed. And it is unclear how to design effective laws, say regulators, including Ms. Jackson, who was confirmed to head the E.P.A. in January.

To fix the problem of agricultural runoff, “I don’t think there’s a solution in my head yet that I could say, right now, write this piece of legislation, this will get it done,” Ms. Jackson said in an interview.

She added that “the challenge now is for E.P.A. and Congress to develop solutions that represent the next step in protecting our nation’s waters and people’s health.”

A potential solution, regulators say, is to find new uses for manure. In Wisconsin, Gov. Jim Doyle has financed projects to use farm waste to generate electricity.

But environmentalists and some lawmakers say real change will occur only when Congress passes laws giving the E.P.A. broad powers to regulate farms. Tougher statutes should permit drastic steps — like shutting down farms or blocking expansion — when watersheds become threatened, they argue.

However, a powerful farm lobby has blocked previous environmental efforts on Capital Hill. Even when state legislatures have acted, they have often encountered unexpected difficulties.

After Brown County’s wells became polluted, for instance, Wisconsin created new rules prohibiting farmers in many areas from spraying manure during winter, and creating additional requirements for large dairies.

But agriculture is among the state’s most powerful industries. After intense lobbying, the farmers’ association won a provision requiring the state often to finance up to 70 percent of the cost of following the new regulations. Unless regulators pay, some farmers do not have to comply.

In a statement, Adam Collins, a spokesman for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, said farmers can only apply waste to fields “according to a nutrient management plan, which, among other things, requires that manure runoff be minimized.”

When there is evidence that a farm has “contaminated a water source, we can and do take enforcement action,” he wrote.

“Wisconsin has a long history of continuously working to improve water quality and a strong reputation nationally for our clean water efforts,” he added. “Approximately 800,000 private drinking water wells serve rural Wisconsin residents. The vast majority of wells provide safe drinking water.”

But anger in some towns remains. At the elementary school a few miles from Mr. Natzke’s dairy, there are signs above drinking fountains warning that the water may be dangerous for infants.

“I go to church with the Natzkes,” said Joel Reetz, who spent $16,000 digging a deeper well after he learned his water was polluted. “Our kid goes to school with their kids. It puts us in a terrible position, because everyone knows each other.

“But what’s happening to this town isn’t right,” he said.
(Amen, I say)

Here is the other article from the Isthmus ...

The fight against factory farms in WisconsinLarge-scale operations become focal points of community oppositionRoger Bybee on Friday 08/14/2009

John Peck, only half-joking, suggests Wisconsin's longtime slogan, "America's Dairyland," may need to be updated. The new slogan: "The Land of 10,000 Animal-Waste Lagoons." He also offers this nightmare scenario:
"Can you imagine tourists driving up to Door County," asks Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders, a national organization based in Madison, "and having to endure the stench from manure lagoons produced by factory farms?"
Peck's vision may sound implausible, like Godzilla rising from Lake Mendota to level the Capitol. Support for small-scale farming seems overwhelming in Madison, with its strong food co-op movement and a thriving Farmers' Market, drawing 10,000 to 15,000 people to the Square to buy fresh produce from small farmers at reasonable prices.
But Peck says Dane County, which leads the state in agricultural production, with more than $70 million in sales annually and about 400 farms and 50,000 cattle, faces the specter of an increasingly corporatized and globally based food system.
The emerging food system is based increasingly on factory farms or "confined animal feeding operations" (CAFOs). These often entail the heavy use of antibiotics to ward off the diseases that proliferate when thousands of animals are penned up in confined spaces.
Critics say the system produces vast lagoons of animal waste and sometimes toxic gases. It displaces small family farms with food produced under industrial conditions. And it relies on legions of low-wage laborers.
In 2003, the state of Wisconsin passed a bill that limited the ability of local communities to oppose large farms. But since then, local fights against CAFO siting or expansion have become considerably larger as family farmers, neighbors of CAFO operations and environmental groups have formed sizable coalitions around the state.
Thus far, the conflict between promoters of CAFO-model farming and family-farm advocates has not turned into a major conflagration. But the battle lines are being drawn and rhetoric is heating up, some focused on the issue of food safety.
Says Will Allen, founder of the Milwaukee-based Growing Power, a food-growing and advocacy organization, "Every time there is an outbreak of E. coli or salmonella, we see a lot more people getting involved."
The CAFO-based model is most aggressively promoted by the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association. It brings together groups including the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, Wisconsin Federation of Cooperatives, the Wisconsin Cattlemen's Association, the Wisconsin Corn Growers Association, the Wisconsin Pork Association and the Professional Dairy Producers of Wisconsin.
While the association portrays itself as the voice of dairy farmers who merely want to "Keep cows in Wisconsin," much of its funding comes from corporate donors. Its website says they include Land O'Lakes Purina Feed LLC, Pfizer Animal Health, Accelerated Genetics, Wick Builders, Bayland Building, insurers, financial-service firms and a host of other agribusiness interests.
These funders have a clear financial stake in using antibiotics and genetic modification, financing farm expansion, and building expensive new structures to house vast herds of animals.
Laurie Fischer, the association's executive director, rebuffed repeated interview requests. She and the group's communications director, Peggy S. Dierickx [see note at end], even declined to answer a set of emailed questions, claiming the press of other issues was too great.
More forthcoming was Paul Zimmerman, executive director of the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation, a statewide farm organization based in Madison. Zimmerman defends larger farming operations, saying many of the criticisms against them could be leveled at smaller farmers as well.
"It all depends on management practices," he says. "You can have problems with water quality whether you have 750 cows or 75 cows."
Likewise with the use of pesticides: "CAFO or no CAFO, raising corn and other crops means you have herbicides and pesticides," Zimmerman maintains. "It's the same regardless of farm size.
Zimmerman sees efforts to draw sharp distinctions between CAFO operators and other farmers as divisive and harmful to the cause of agriculture in Wisconsin: "Pitting one farmer against another is just defeating farming."
Farmers, he suggests, have a hard enough time already. "There is consolidation in the industry," says Zimmerman. "The number of dairy farms has fallen from over 40,000 to 15,000. There's pressure in the middle, on the medium-sized farmer."
The Farm Bureau, he says, tries to propagate responsible practices among all of its 42,000 members. He adds that the industry is trying to respond to criticisms, for instance by adding methane digesters to mitigate odor, a prime concern of CAFO neighbors.
In 1990, according to state Department of Natural Resources data, Wisconsin had just 20 CAFOs — defined as farms of 500 or more animal units (with 714 dairy cows equated with 1,000 animal units). Zimmerman says the state now has roughly 170 CAFOs, about three-fourths of them dairy operations.
These operations account for an increasing share of the state's agricultural output. In 2007, 28 dairy herds of 500 cows or larger — representing less than two-tenths of 1% of Wisconsin's 14,200 dairy farms — accounted for nearly a quarter of all milk production in the state, according to data supplied by the state Department of Agriculture.
On small-scale family farms, manure is not a major problem. They have sufficient space per animal so that the manure generated can be recycled on the land as fertilizer rather than flowing into large lagoons.
"An ideal-sized farm cherishes manure because it fertilizes the land," says Jon Kinsman, an 83-year-old leader of Family Farm Defenders. "In excessive amounts, it becomes a problem. But on a family farm, it's a wonderful source of fertilizer."
CAFOs aim to raise profit by increasing the number of animal "units" producing revenue. These farms are operated as much like a factory assembly line as possible.
"Larger farms have come into existence because it is easier to increase herd size than the land base," says Prof. Thomas Kriegl of the UW Center for Dairy Profitability.
In fact, says Kriegl, smaller farms (under 100 cows) are actually more profitable than larger farms, as measured in earnings per cow or hundred-weight of milk. But larger CAFO-style farms have much larger volumes to make up for lower per-unit earnings.
Peck, a intensely energetic dark-haired man with a Ph.D. in land management from UW-Madison, says family-run farms in Dane County have confronted a daunting new set of pressures from the competition of "factory farms" actively promoted by state policy.
He says state and sometimes Dane County policies are designed to encourage the growth of large farms at the expense of small family farmers. He also says that CAFOs benefit from cozy relationships with big food processors that cut out small farmers. (Family farms are generally considered those where family members do most of the labor and decision making.)
"From the Department of Agriculture to the UW and the UW-Extension, there is a total bias toward factory farms," charges Peck. "Factory farms are not a natural state of agriculture. Instead, factory farms are a policy-induced distortion. That's why just 166 factory farms are getting the lion's share of subsidies and assistance from the state."
The growth of CAFOs has been spurred by state policies that have continued from Republican governors Tommy Thompson and Scott McCallum to Democrat Jim Doyle, says Wausau-area farmer Tony Schultz, a board member of Family Farm Defenders. And while Doyle's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection has encouraged some practices that protect Wisconsin's environment, like rotating where farm animals graze, Schultz calls this "crumbs relative to the other policies Doyle is pushing for larger farms."
Adds Jamie Saul, an attorney with Midwest Environmental Advocates: "Gov. Doyle says he wants to promote expansion of dairy industry, but the CAFOs threaten small, sustainable, organic and family farms."
Currently, Dane County has seven CAFOs (see chart). The waste from the animals is collected in lagoons, and some nearby residents say the stench can be overwhelming. "When the wind is blowing from the wrong direction," says Mary Lippert, who lives near a CAFO outside Waunakee, "it can get pretty bad."
Despite the noxious fumes, pollution worries and health concerns, some local officials are eager to "win" the location of factory farms in their jurisdiction because of added jobs and tax revenues.
And for those local officials resistant to CAFOs, the State Livestock Siting Review Act of 2003 passed by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Doyle prevents local authorities from blocking the construction of CAFOs. The law, which Doyle hailed as "a win-win for farmers and rural communities" and a triumph for "the right to farm," establishes a seven-person board that can overrule local conditions on CAFOs as too restrictive.
Fumes Kinsman, "The state Legislature took away the democratic right of local communities to decide where and how factory farms would operate, and gave it instead to a livestock siting board appointed by the governor." Peck calls the loss of local control inherent in this legislation "a form of subsidy."
In January, Rock County Circuit Court Judge James E. Welker ruled that conditions set by the town of Magnolia were reasonable for a 1,500-unit dairy proposed by Larson Dairy. Although the town merely restated the state's own standards for water protection, plant rotation and restrictions of manure spreading, the Siting Review Board had overruled it. Judge Welker declared that the board had acted "beyond its powers"; his ruling is now under appeal.
The Farm Bureau's Zimmerman downplays the impact of this ruling, saying it involved specific circumstances not likely to be found in other cases. But the judge's decision is likely to further encourage anti-CAFO forces, which over the last year have been springing up across the state.
"It seems like every CAFO is running into resistance around the state now," says Schultz of Family Farm Defenders.
Anti-CAFO campaigns are even cropping up in formerly politically placid areas like Viroqua and Taylor County. Mary Lippert, a veteran member of Family Farm Defenders, says that's remarkable given people's reluctance to engage in such battles.
"Pretty much everyone wants to be good neighbors, and you don't want to get into conflicts," she says. "Your natural instinct is to have a community and be friendly and talk to your neighbors rather than say, 'What you're doing is wrong.'"
One emerging concern is that factory farms pose public health risks.
World Health Organization experts are investigating whether the swine flu outbreak occurred on a giant 990,000-hog factory farm operated in part by U.S.-based Smithfield Foods near Peyote, Mexico. According to the Mexican newspaper La Jornada, "Clouds of flies emanate from the lagoons where [the farm] discharges the fecal waste from its hog barns — as well as air pollution that has already caused an epidemic of respiratory infections in the town."
Smithfield has said there is no evidence to connect its operation to the swine flu outbreak. But a 2004 Government Accounting Office study clearly cited the possibility of CAFOs posing a threat of transferring illness to humans:
"Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been transferred from animals to humans, and many of the studies we reviewed found that this transference poses significant risks for human health."
The American Public Health Organization, after reviewing more than 40 scientific reports about health problems associated with CAFOs, has called for an outright moratorium on them.
A 2008 report funded by the Pew Charitable Trust and conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health concluded: "The current industrial farm animal production system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals."
The Union of Concerned Scientists, World Health Organization and American Medical Association have reached similar conclusions. And the Infectious Diseases Society of America and American Academy of Pediatrics have urged closer scrutiny of antibiotics used on factory farms.
Zimmerman concedes that concerns about antibiotic use are fueling anti-CAFO sentiment. But, he asks, "Are CAFOs using more antibiotics? I don't know." He adds that the use of antibiotics is "not just an issue for CAFOs" but for all kinds of farms.
In January, nearly 700 people showed up for a public hearing to debate the 8,300-cow Rosendale dairy proposed for Fond du Lac County, between Waupaca and Oshkosh. Plans for the expansion are moving forward, but attorney Saul says adding to the current limit of about 4,150 cattle will require a modified permit and a new round of public comment.
There will be plenty. According to Russ Tooley of the local opposition group Centerville CARES, the Rosendale expansion, when completed, would generate as much waste as a city of 75,000 people.
Barbara Pandolfo, director of public affairs for Milksource, which manages Rosendale and two other farms, counters that local farmers actually need more manure to fertilize their crops than Rosendale can provide. "We supply only 10% of the need in our region," she says. "So farmers must go out and buy chemical-based fertilizers to help make up the difference."
Rosendale, says Pandolfo, goes to great lengths to avoid polluting wells and the water table. "We're very careful in protecting the environment as much as our cows and our whole operation," she says. "But there's a lot of misinformation because they [CAFOs] are relatively new to Wisconsin."
In the future, the people of Wisconsin may have the chance to become much more familiar with them.
Is Dane digester a boon for bigger farms?
Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk, a longtime environmentalist, is pushing for the phased-in development of two manure digesters that, she says, would reduce the problem of odors and the leaching of animal wastes into the lake system surrounding Madison.
She's lined up $1.2 million in county funds, $6.6 million in state funds. The cost of the first digester, planned for Waunakee, is estimated at $18 million.
The digesters would reduce the air- and water-quality problems posed particularly by large waste lagoons from Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
In theory, all area farmers, large and small, would have access to the digesters, which will process the manure and convert it to energy. But John Peck of the Madison-based Family Farm Defenders argues that only large farmers have a need for the digesters, which he believes would encourage the spread of CAFOs in Dane County.
Falk, in a response letter, called Peck "one of my heroes" but begged to differ with his analysis.
"Dane County has 400 dairy farms, with about 125 cows the average size herd," she wrote. "We want them [small farmers] to be farming forever despite tremendous growth pressures. We have less than 10 large [CAFO] farms, and I don't see more likely because of the price of land."
Falk, noting that Dane was the only one of the state's 72 counties to ban the spreading of manure in the winter, said the digesters will protect the lakes from runoff and provide a source of clean energy. Plus they will add "good, high-paying construction jobs" for construction and maintenance.
John Ikerd, professor emeritus from the University of Missouri's School of Agriculture, sides with Peck. He believes the benefits of manure digesters and methane generation serve to "distract from the more important threats posed by CAFOs, which are significant public health risks." Editor's note: This article mentioned that Roger Bybee's efforts to get answers from the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association executive director Laurie Fischer and and information director Peggy S. Dierickx proved futile. Actually, Ms. Dierickx left the employ of the Dairy Business Association during this period, and was involved only in initial contacts. She was ultimately not responsible for the difficulties we had getting information.


The cottage by the Cranelake said...

Terrible facts and great that this information is spreading!! Relly interesting to read this since more and more small farms nowdays are closing down over here. Well we have no cafos here yet and we have much harder laws, but still!
Thanks for the information!

Anonymous said...

Great articles. I am cutting and pasting them to my e-mails and sending them out to my friends. I think it's important for everyone to know this even if they are city dwellers...debbie

Barb and Steve said...

Hi Christer...sorry about losing small farms over there.I hope it stops soon.
Hi Debbie...thanks for doing that. You're right , everyone needs to know this info.