Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Craig defends business 'farms,' not small farmers

Guest opinion by Ken Midkiff

Guest opinion by KEN MIDKIFF

Ken Midkiff is the author of "The Meat You Eat" and is a member of the Sierra Club, Concerned Citizens for Clean Water, and Community Association for Restoration of the Environment.

While it may make for pretty packaging—all those black and white cows standing out under the shade tree—this just doesn't happen on the very "agricultural operations" that Idaho's U.S. Sen. Larry Craig is trying to exempt from compliance with some rather basic federal laws.

While Craig may, and does, state, "Environmentalists have begun a new attack on the agriculture industry," this is little more than his spin.

The facts are that "environmentalists" have joined forces with independent farmers and ranchers in response to intrusive agribusiness corporations. These corporations use industrial methods in the production of meat, milk, eggs, fruits and vegetables.

While he may be correct in stating that the U.S. Congress never intended The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as Superfund, and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA) to apply to livestock operations, it is also true that Congress did not envision dairies that contain 5,000 or 10,000 cows. These operations are not "farms," and they should and must be held strictly accountable to all federal laws-not just to the ones that Craig favors.

As to Craig's claim that "state and local regulations" are in place to "manage animal waste" from farms, he is just flat wrong. Real farms—diversified family farms—are truly exempt from compliance with federal and state laws and regulations. Most states, including Idaho, have a "right to farm law" that protects farmers from frivolous nuisance suits. There is an exemption for "normal agricultural odors" and from "fugitive dust" laws. There are exemptions in the Clean Water Act pertaining to agricultural stormwater. The list goes on and on, but suffice it to say that landowners with small diversified farms are simply not affected by state or federal environmental laws and regulations.

There is a perception that such is not the case, but this perception has been developed and perpetuated by the very operations that Craig would exempt.

When an agricultural operation confines thousands of cows or hogs, and millions of chickens, then, yes, indeed, these do contaminate the air, land, and water, do cause harmful health impacts on neighbors, and are then required to report the toxic compounds that are emitted from such facilities.

Idaho dairies that reach the size specified by law—1000 animal units or 750 cows—are required to comply with state and federal laws. The cows in such operations never even see green grass or a shade tree, despite all the pretty photos on cartons of milk, but instead are confined in concrete and metal structures. Much of the milk from industrial dairies goes to make cheese for export, not for direct consumption, and the surplus is purchased by the U.S. government and ends up being stored in limestone caves in Kansas City.

I am an environmentalist. I care about clean air, clean water, and land stewardship. Industrial agribusiness corporations threaten all of these, and for this reason environmental and conservation organizations are supportive of diversified family farms.

What exactly is it that Craig supports? Or perhaps the real question is: How much money does Craig receive from agribusinesses?

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