Legal fights come to factory farms as grassroots organizations push back
Monday, August 26, 2019
“There’s a legal fiction that factory farms don’t pollute, so there’s no pollution to monitor,” said Food & Water Watch senior attorney Tarah Heinzen. The amount of environmental pollution from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), or factory farms, makes it difficult to protect waterways and natural environments.
Food & Water Watch, an organization that focuses on creating grassroots movements to protect environmental resources, is taking legal action against several farm brands that practice factory farming.
Animals — such as pigs, chickens, or cows — are confined in factory farms, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) says. Animals in these farms are kept in cages or crates or are crowded together in pens.
Food & Water Watch began legal proceedings against Tyson Foods this summer, claiming that the company focuses on environmental stewardship as a business philosophy. The organization says these claims are counter to how Tyson actually treats the land and water.
Additionally, several conservation groups sued the Environmental Protection Agency in July for “overstepping its authority in exempting factory farms from pollution-reporting requirements essential to public safety, environmental health and animal welfare.”
According to a statement published by the Center for Biological Diversity, the lawsuit is meant to “ensure that industrial-scale livestock and poultry operations report their toxic releases of ammonia and hydrogen sulfide as required by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act.”
Initially filed in 2018 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the suit challenges the EPA's attempts at not reporting pollution reports by posting instructions on its website and characterizing those instructions as "guidance." The July filing is meant to supplement the initial action by challenging the rule finalized by the EPA that "codifies this impermissible exemption."
The gist of the lawsuit is that federal pollution-reporting requirements must guarantee communities and emergency responders have access to information necessary to protect themselves against harmful exposure to hazardous substances like ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.
The suit claims that ammonia and hydrogen sulfide can contaminate air, water, and soil, and harm wildlife and the health of farm animals confined in factory farms.
According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the lawsuit points out that exemptions in the pollution reporting rules pose severe risks to communities by denying them the information necessary to stay safe from poisonous substances. By issuing the regulations, the EPA failed to follow the rulemaking process as required by the Administrative Procedure Act.
“CAFOs generate massive amounts of waste, contaminating air, drinking water, and surface waters, impacting the health of both people and animals,” a statement from the Animal Legal Defense Fund said.
Back to the action against Tyson Foods: The Organic Consumer Association filed a lawsuit earlier this year against Tyson Foods regarding the company's marketing efforts. The nonprofit says the company intends to “make consumers think their chicken products are produced in a humane and environmentally responsible manner, their actions demonstrate this is little more than an effort to sell more chicken.”
Food & Water Watch says that Tyson dumped more than 20 million pounds of toxic pollutants into U.S. waterways and between 2013 and 2015. For example, one facility, the Mountaire slaughterhouse in Millsboro, Delaware, produces 2.4 million gallons of chicken waste each day, including manure, feathers, carcasses, organs, blood, dirt, and wastewater, which is stored in lagoons until the liquid waste and sprayed onto nearby disposal fields.
One massive problem with this, the organization states, is that the groundwater aquifer below the plant is the sole source of drinking water for the surrounding community.
While some communities face potential hurdles as a result of factory farms, other cities are taking a long-term view and reviewing farms’ potential impacts before letting such organizations set up shop.
There are currently about 20,000 factory farms in the U.S., according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. From 2011 to 2017, the United States saw more than 1,400 new large-scale CAFOs established, a rise of 7.6%. Factory farms raise 99% of U.S. farm animals, according to the ASPCA.
Factory farming is a significant contributor to water and air pollution, as well as deforestation, producing more than 1 million tons of manure every day, which often contains undigested antibiotics.
“Factory farms pollute just like a factory,” said Jane Williams, chair of the Sierra Club’s national clean air team. “They need to report those emissions and seek ways to reduce them.”
In addition to animal waste and byproducts, the impact of factory farms on the environment is quite substantial.
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