Guest Column: Wisconsin DATCP Livestock Siting Committee four-year review

By Russ Brown

Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

Water, water, every where; Nor any drop to drink” from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, is a poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, published in 1798. This poem came to mind after I attended the first meeting in Madison of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) committee to review the Livestock Siting Law. I remembered the poem having something to do with sailors running out of water to drink while surrounded by the saltwater of the sea.

The implementation of Wisconsin Livestock Siting Law influences the quality of our water and ultimately the quality of our lives. The law effectively took away local control of the siting of livestock facilities within our communities in favor of making a more predictable statewide rule and path for the expansion of large Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), more commonly known as factory farms. To compensate for the loss of local control, the law includes a method to address community concerns through a once-every-four-year review of the standards and procedures. By looking at expansion of the industry alone, the law has been a success, the CAFOs have grown from only two factory farms in Wisconsin in 1995 to over 250 today. This expansion brings with it the potential of great harm to our natural resources, our land and water, our health and our economy. Raising the concentration of animals beyond what the environment can tolerate will make our water undrinkable, like saltwater to a sailor.

Lately, the news has been full of accounts of major manure spills; wells contaminated with E.coli, nitrates and antibiotics; and phosphorus runoff causing algae blooms followed by fish kills. Recent articles have reported that 30 percent of wells tested in Kewaunee County, where there are 15 factory farms land spreading manure on 80 percent of the available crop land, wee contaminated and not safe to drink. More importantly, a clean test today does not assure you that you well will be safe tomorrow; the wells were tested several times over the past year, and the safety of the water changed throughout the year with the spreading of manure and the weather. The Central Sands area of Wisconsin (Adams, Waushara, Wood, Waupaca, Marquette, Portage counties) are considered to be the next frontier for factory farms. Residents may soon find themselves in the same boat as the residents of Kewaunee County with water that is no longer safe to drink.

Water, water, every where; Nor any drop to drink’

During the eight years of implementation, factory farms have benefited and legally expanded their operations. While alternatively, local communities have found their abilities to manage the negative social, environmental, and health impacts of large livestock operations restricted. Local attempts to regulate are often met with threats of litigation from factory farm owners. The Dairy Business Association will inform you that factory farms are the most heavily regulated segment of the agriculture industry, but regulations only work when they are adequate and enforced. While factory farms are required to have a Nutrient Management Plan outlining their plans to land spread the waste from their operations, DNR officials will inform you that these plans are not a water quality standard. The DNR will also inform you that a manure lagoon can leak 500 gallons of liquid manure per day per acre and still be considered in compliance. The fact that major manure spills happen; odor (toxic chemicals) affect neighbors; wells are contaminated with E. coli, nitrates, and antibiotics; and phosphorus runoff endangers our lakes, rivers and streams, all point to the fact that the regulations are not adequate.

Even more concerning at the DATCP meeting, I found out the regulation requires that any rule recommended to protect public health and safety, and natural resources must be balanced with the goal of promoting the growth of animal agriculture. I will not argue that protection of public health and safety and protection of natural resources are goals that need to be objective, based on scientific information and even cost-effective. But to hear that there has to be by regulation a give-and-take of our health and environmental needs with the want for unfettered growth of animal agriculture was hard to take. In the poem, the Ancient Mariner thought himself above nature, too, and all those around him paid the price.

Ah! well a-day! What evil looks; Had I from old and young!

Instead of the cross, the Albatross; About my neck was hung.’

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner speaks of a violation of nature and the resulting effects. A wrongdoing, rationalized as good and necessary, leading to great harm, followed by blame and justification and finally leading to recognition, reparation and redemption. We need to recognize the harm of factory farms and make reparations in order to redeem our health, our environment and our economy. The Wisconsin we leave to the next generation depends greatly on what we do today. The next DATCP meeting is at 9 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 15. The public is welcome.

Russ Brown is a member of the Wisconsin Farmers Union and the Family Farm Defenders. His business is Fresh for Life Organics; website

Posted Oct. 15, 2014

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