Consumer Group Brings European Farmers to United States Dairies
Washington, D.C. – Food & Water Watch welcomed farmers from France, Spain, and Germany this week for a first hand look at the environmental and public health consequences of factory farm dairies in three states – Michigan, Oregon and Washington.
“U.S. factory dairy farms are so bad they’re a tourist attraction,” said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director. “European farmers touring U.S. factory dairies and communities will take home a snapshot of what European agriculture could become if farmers and their governments aren’t careful.”
Factory farms have been linked to health problems for farm workers and neighbors, and contaminated water and air in surrounding communities. The stench alone can ruin rural communities, as residents rush to shut their windows and bring their children indoors when the wind shifts. These communities have been fighting lonely, uphill battles against operators that take advantage of lax enforcement of zoning and environmental laws.
“In a 16 mile corridor we have dairy operations dumping five times the amount of raw sewage as that produced by the entire population of Seattle onto our fields,” said Helen Reddout, president of Community Association for Restoration of the Environment in Yakima County, Washington. “Contaminated waste on our fields is dangerous as we can see in the California spinach case."
"The U.S. EPA and state agencies turn a blind eye to the air and water pollution caused by giant dairies and other factory farms," explained Hauter. "Rural communities and U.S. consumers deserve better."
“It’s sad that when there’s so much in Oregon agriculture that is right, we become known to the international community for operations like the Threemile Canyon Farm complex, that don’t represent the agriculture we value in our state,” said Kendra Kimbirauskas, a regional consultant with the GRACE Factory Farm Project.
Factory farming can also affect the health of consumers far from the dairy. According to the American Public Health Association (APHA), the overuse of antibiotics for livestock is creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threatens human health. An estimated 70% of antibiotics used in the United States are for promoting growth and preventing disease in food animals.
"We wanted to see U.S. factory dairies because big agriculture interests plans to export the factory farm model to Europe and replace our traditional family dairies," said Jean Cabaret, a French dairy farmer and member of the French farmers union Confederation Paysanne. “Europeans want sustainable, chemical free, and humanely raised dairy and meat products – not factory farm pollution."
Industrial agriculture companies have dramatically expanded their operations in parts of Europe in recent years, transforming the landscape from one of numerous small family farms to one of giant animal confinement facilities. The European Union is considering reforms to its Common Agricultural Policy for dairy that could potentially drive European dairy farmers out of business and towards a model similar to the U.S system. Food & Water Watch supports efforts to encourage local food production through numerous sustainable family farms instead of an industrialized model that relies on factory farms.
“Showing just how bad it is in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties is one way to advocate for stronger laws here as well as to make sure Europeans don’t weaken their laws to allow these horrible facilities to move into their communities,” said Lynn Henning, Sierra Club CAFO Water Sentinel and a leader of the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan.