Environment Ohio Research and Policy Center
As the statehouse finalizes new rules for reducing the pollution that helped cause toxic algal blooms across the state last summer , Environment Ohio released a report, Corporate Agribusiness and America’s Waterways, examining the role of corporate agribusinesses across the country – including dairy mega-farms in the Lake Erie watershed – in polluting America’s waterways.
“Corporate agribusiness is an industry. It creates industrial scale water pollution, and we need to use industrial scale, mandatory policies to clean it up. Corporate agribusinesses need to take responsibility for their pollution, and government leaders need to hold them accountable,” said Julian Boggs, Program Associate for Environment Ohio.
“Right now, Ohio and the EPA have the chance of a lifetime to make a commitment to clean water throughout the Lake Erie watershed. And clean water will require that all polluters pay their fair share for clean-up, including corporate agribusinesses like Vreba-Hoff. If the EPA and Ohio take stronger steps to reduce pollution from industrial agriculture, we could start to see real improvements in water quality throughout the state and region,” added Boggs.
In one of eight national case studies, the report found that while the state has experienced a dramatic shift from small-scale to factory-scale farming operations, Lake Erie’s exposure to a key pollutant known as dissolved reactive phosphorous (DRP) has increased significantly. DRP flows into Lake Erie have grown to be greater than they were in the 70’s, when the Lake Erie cleanup began in earnest.
The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review is poised to enact a set of new rules proposed to reduce manure pollution into Ohio’s waterways. The rules were proposed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in response to toxic algal blooms at Grand Lake St Mary’s and across the state that raised alarm last summer. Environment Ohio applauds the rules as a first step and is calling on the EPA and the state of Ohio to make sure that agribusinesses do the following to ensure that their animal waste no longer pollutes our waterways:
• Ban Worst Practices, including a moratorium on the opening of new CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) until their impact on the environment and public health is addressed.
• Guarantee protections to all of America’s waterways by clarifying that the Clean Water Act applies to all waterways.
• Hold corporate agribusiness responsible for its pollution by making them liable for the waste they produce.
• Give local environmental laws and agencies real teeth to enforce the Clean Water Act.
• Empower local communities by allowing them to decide on local land-use issues.
• Encourage better practices and look for systematic solutions in the short and long term.
“Right now, the cards are actually stacked against dairy farmers that are producing milk in environmentally sustainable ways, and it’s getting worse, not better. For years big dairy has been lobbying USDA to subsidize the huge confinement dairies which produce mountains of manure by letting taxpayers build manure-to-methane plants. Pasture grazing dairy farmers who consider manure an asset, not a liability, are competitively disadvantaged, since they get no benefit from the subsidy, while confinement dairy farms have the government take over one of their costs of doing business,” said Warren Taylor of Snowville Creameries, a local distributor of dairy products.
The report shows that Vreba-Hoff and its dairy cows are not alone. Across the country, agribusiness has become more industrialized, and it is creating an industrial scale of pollution for America’s waters. Across the country, according to the report, agribusiness contributes to making 100,000 miles of rivers and 2,500 square miles of inland lakes too polluted to sustain important uses such as swimming, fishing, drinking, and wildlife habitat.