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Eco- and animal-rights groups petition against Oregon’s ‘mega-dairies’

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A group of 22 environmentalists, public health, and animal-rights aficionados led by the Stand Up For Factory Farms coalition is petitioning Oregon to adopt new air quality rules — specifically targeting dairy. 

Filed on August 17, the petition was submitted to the Environmental Quality Commission seeking to create an emissions program that applies to “large” dairy farms — those the federal EPA defines by housing 700 or more mature cows.

Oregon is home to over 200 dairy farms — most which have been family owned and operated for multiple generations. The state is known for producing high-quality milk and consistently ranking amongst the top five states nationwide for milk quality. Although the petition purportedly is aimed at “mega dairy,” a 700 mature cow operation hardly qualifies as a large farm. In fact, 700 mature cows doesn’t place a dairy into the top ten largest dairies in the state … or the top 50. 

The introduction to the petition reads, “Air pollution from the State’s growing number of exceedingly large mega-dairies threatens the public health and safety of Oregonians, as well as the environment. Yet the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality neither monitors nor regulates this air pollution through its current Air Contaminant Discharge Permit program. It is past time for Oregon to address air pollution from large dairy concentrated animal feeding operations.”

The coalition’s petition calls for a requirement that proposed and existing dairies obtain an air quality permit to “curb” harmful emissions. The permit would likely apply to 39 percent of Grade A dairies in the state, which house 84 percent of cattle. The commission has 90 days to respond by denying the request or by beginning rule-making proceedings. 

The groups support their claims with a “fact sheet” by Food and Water Watch, which reads, “Mega-dairies have wreaked havoc on communities in eastern Oregon for years. Nitrate from fertilizers and animal waste infiltrates groundwater and threatens the health of those who drink it.” In their conclusion, they state, “The numerous problems that mega-dairies create and the incalculable damage that they inflict on Oregon are not going away without strong action from the state’s leaders. Touting factory farm gas as a solution is only entrenching pollution among frontline communities. Oregon’s legislature must take strong action to protect our air, water and health, beginning with a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies.”

The removal of dairy cows from the U.S. agricultural industry wouldn’t do much to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, data from Virginia Tech suggests that emissions would only drop about 0.7 percent, with far worse implications for human health if dairy was removed. 

Dairies are already under regulation by the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality. Since 1993, all Oregon dairies have maintained a Confined Animal Feeding Operation Permit, which provides a checks and balances system that ensures protection of the state’s waters. 

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