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Oregon Mega-Dairy Reform Bills Die, Threatening Repeat of Lost Valley Disaster

April 12, 2019
Center for Food Safety

Oregon Mega-Dairy Reform Bills Die, Threatening Repeat of Lost Valley Disaster

SALEM, OR — Oregon is at risk of repeating the ecological and economic disaster that occurred at the Lost Valley mega-dairy in Eastern Oregon after three bills aimed at fixing the problem failed to pass this legislative session. This means the loopholes that allowed the Lost Valley mega-dairy to rack up hundreds of environmental violations, threaten groundwater, and leave behind more than 30 million gallons of liquid manure can be exploited by the new owner of the property near Boardman, OR. In the wake of regulatory and environmental failures surrounding the Lost Valley, which was permitted for up to 30,000 cows in 2017 despite significant public opposition, a coalition of nearly two dozen farming, consumer, animal welfare, and environmental groups had called for reforms, including a 'time-out' on state-issued permits for new mega-dairies. 

Senate Bill 103 would have put a hold on licensing new mega-dairies to allow the Oregon Department of Agriculture and other state agencies time to ensure future industrial dairies wouldn't cause similar unchecked damage. Senate Bill 104 would have allowed local governments to enact common-sense measures to prevent groundwater and environmental contamination from sewage and dead animals at new mega-dairies. Both bills received a public hearing but have died in committee without a vote

"The Legislature had an opportunity to place a time-out on new mega-dairies in the wake of the Lost Valley disaster, but failed to take any meaningful action," said Tarah Heinzen, Senior Staff Attorney for Food & Water Watch and a member of the coalition."We will continue to call for a mega-dairy moratorium on behalf of all Oregonians — who value clean water, vibrant rural communities, and ethical business practices." 

"Industrial mega-dairies are using loopholes in Oregon law to expand their operations while operating under the same rules as the small and mid-sized family farms they are driving out business," said Ivan Maluski, Policy Director for Friends of Family Farmers, another coalition member. "Unfortunately, even the most reasonable reforms were blocked by lobbyists representing the growing number of mega-dairy operators that are putting our family-scale dairy farms out of business."

"Because our legislators failed Oregonians, the new owners of Lost Valley are poised to re-open a mega-dairy that generates the waste of multiple cities in an area where groundwater - drinking water - is already polluted with dangerous levels of nitrates. Collectively, Oregonians must say enough is enough, these mega-dairies do not support our values of clean water, clean air, and clean food," said Amy van Saun, Senior Staff Attorney at the Center for Food Safety.

According to new data released this week from the USDA Census of Agriculture, the dairy industry in Oregon and across the US is consolidating into larger and larger operations. Nationwide, the number of dairy farms dropped by more than 17 percent in the last five years even as milk production and sales increased, with smaller dairy farms going out of business as the largest farms grow larger.

Another bill, SB 876, was requested by State Senator Michael Dembrow to tighten up rules to prevent unsustainable water use by new large dairies. An amendment focused on preventing pollution and overuse of threatened groundwater by new large dairies with over 2500 cows was offered in the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources in the final days before a key legislative deadline, but even this modest proposal failed in a 2-3 vote with Senator Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay) aligning with two committee Republicans, Senators Cliff Bentz (R-Ontario) and Alan Olsen (R-Canby) to kill the reform. 

"We participated in Senator Dembrow's work group for several months, and had hoped it would have led to reasonable industry groups working together with us to prevent the worst mistakes made at Lost Valley from happening again," said Brian Posewitz, who worked on the issue both as a staff attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon and as a board member for the animal welfare group Humane Voters Oregon. "For example, lobbyists representing industrial dairies blocked a provision in an amendment to SB 876 to prevent unlimited exempt use of groundwater by new operations over 2500 cows in areas where other agricultural water rights are restricted by rule or order due to declining and limited supplies. They also prevented creation of a task force, which would have had equal representation from the industry, simply to talk about animal welfare issues at industrial dairies."

"I think Oregonians would be shocked to know that the majority of dairy products in many grocery stores now come from industrial mega-dairies like Lost Valley that raise cows in extreme confinement, where animals often stand in their own feces, with little to no access to the outdoors. While it's no surprise that Big Ag worked hard to defeat these bills, we're disappointed that three legislators on the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee didn't listen to the majority of Oregonians who value animal welfare and sustainable food," said Erin Eberle, Director of Engagement for Farm Forward.

"Lost Valley threatened groundwater, racked up hundreds of permit violations, treated their animals inhumanely, and left 30 million gallons of manure and wastewater behind, and yet the State Department of Agriculture didn't prevent it from happening when they could have," said Scott Beckstead, Rural Outreach Director with the Humane Society of the United States. "With a new owner of the Lost Valley site likely planning to re-open the 30,000 cow facility soon, we will keep working to ensure this and other industrial dairies aren't allowed to exploit the loopholes in Oregon's laws again."

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