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[EXCERPT: These farms emit an enormous amount of pollutants that taint air, land and water. Their noxious gases, studies suggest, contribute to respiratory problems, gastrointestinal diseases, eye infections, depression and other ailments. Department of Agriculture research has shown that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are carried daily across property lines from corporate hog farms into homes and small farms. The thousands of animals crowded together on each giant feedlot produce waste that pollutes waterways and contaminates drinking water.]
An Ill Wind From Factory Farms
By ROBERT F. KENNEDY Jr. and ERIC SCHAEFFER
Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is president of Waterkeeper Alliance. Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Protection Agency's office of regulatory enforcement from 1997 to 2002, is director of the Environmental Integrity Project.
September 20, 2003
The New York Times
Congress will hold hearings soon on the nomination of Gov. Michael Leavitt of Utah to lead the Environmental Protection Agency. He's bound to be asked about his efforts to eliminate protections for wilderness areas in his state and his close ties to the mining and timber industries. But he should also be asked about another issue that has received far less attention:the threat to the environment posed by the huge factory farms that dominate meat production in the United States today.
These farms emit an enormous amount of pollutants that taint air, land and water. Their noxious gases, studies suggest, contribute to respiratory problems, gastrointestinal diseases, eye infections, depression and other ailments. Department of Agriculture research has shown that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are carried daily across property lines from corporate hog farms into homes and small farms. The thousands of animals crowded together on each giant feedlot produce waste that pollutes waterways and contaminates drinking water.
For decades, the agribusiness lobby in Washington has invoked the small family farmer in its campaign to expand subsidies and fend off regulation, but it's mainly big producers that benefit. In 1998, the top four producers marketed 57 percent of all hogs in the country, and large corporations have cornered the market for chickens, cattle and dairy products as well. Much of this production is handled through contract farms whose corporate owners dictate how animals will be raised, housed and fed while disclaiming any environmental responsibility and living far away from the consequences.
These operations pollute the air with the gases released from huge barns and waste lagoons and by processes that "air out" manure before it is applied to fields. Under the Clinton administration, the E.P.A. began ordering farms to measure emissions and apply for Clean Air Act permits just as factories do. Early results showed that Buckeye Egg Farm, an egg-laying operation in Ohio, released hundreds of tons of particulate matter every year.
But the Bush administration ordered such enforcement investigations stopped two years ago. The Department of Agriculture studies on bacteria were suppressed at industry's request, prompting the resignation of the study's author, James Zahn. Earlier proposals to make corporate owners responsible for wastewater discharges at contract farms were shelved.
Now the E.P.A. is considering a request from the pig and poultry conglomerates to be shielded from Clean Air Act enforcement for a few more years while industry begins to measure its own emissions. The amnesty agreement would not require a corporate farm to clean up air pollution even if the agency found that pollution was at dangerously high levels.
And no agreement should be signed that does not require companies to clean up their operations when their emissions are too high. A coalition of environmental groups and farm families have petitioned the E.P.A. to end its moratorium on enforcement, and exercise its authority to order air monitoring at some of the most notorious factory farms.
We hope the E.P.A. will remember its mission to protect public health and act on this simple request. Governor Leavitt should know something about this problem. Nine workers were hospitalized in 1998 after they were overcome by fumes working at a giant hog operation in Utah, and a more recent state study found high levels of respiratory illness among nearby residents. But Utah has made it much harder for people to sue such operations and for officials to regulate them. Perhaps Congress should ask Governor Leavitt how long the victims of pollution from factory farming will have to wait before they can breathe clean air again.
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