Report Connects Political Influence of Big Ag with Polluted Waterways in Wisconsin

Media Contacts
Katie Siegner

Megan Severson

Wisconsin Environment

Madison, WI – As more and more of Wisconsin’s lakes suffer from pollution at the hands of industrial agriculture, a new report by Wisconsin Environment Research & Policy Center reveals the political influence of the agribusiness lobby and its role in weakening Wisconsin’s clean water protections. In the last decade, the number of permitted factory farms in Wisconsin has more than doubled, and the agencies charged with enforcing the state’s clean water standards have allowed for the rapid growth of industrial farming.

“Wisconsin’s lakes are the best in the country, but they’re at serious risk due to the growing pollution problem caused by factory farms,” said Katie Siegner, clean water associate for Wisconsin Environment. “Meanwhile, corporate-backed agribusiness groups are using their lobbyists and political clout to ensure that these operations face minimal regulations and can keep expanding.”

The report, titled “The Power to Pollute,” comes as the Dairy Business Association holds its annual conference in Madison. It illustrates the scope of the water pollution problem and the multiple ways in which Big Ag uses its power to influence policy decisions.

Key findings from the report include:

• In Wisconsin, dairy concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) hold 434,547 animal units – equal to 303,879 cows, assuming they are all milking and dry cows – and can produce more untreated waste than 69 million people. That’s more than 12 times the population of Wisconsin.

• As of 2010, pollution from livestock operations of all sizes has left more than 4,000 acres of lakes and 377 miles of rivers and creeks too polluted to sustain their designated uses of swimming, fishing, or providing a healthy habitat for aquatic plants and animals in Wisconsin.

• Over time, the DNR has issued fewer citations to factory farms, despite rapid growth in the number of operations. In 2012, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued just three violation notices for animal waste from CAFOs – down from 13 in 2011 and 15 in 2010. The agency has also never turned down a permit request.

• In the past five years, agribusinesses and agribusiness-related organizations (such as the Dairy Business Association) spent more than $4.4 million lobbying the state government in Wisconsin. And many state regulators responsible for enforcing rules on factory farms are former agribusiness lobbyists.

“Because of agribusiness’s influence, the state’s regulatory agencies do little to monitor factory farms, while runoff continues to pour into the state’s waterways, wetlands and drinking water wells,” said Scott Dye, a field associate with the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project. “Without common sense enforcement, the current unbridled pace of expansion of the state’s mega-dairies is a recipe for environmental disaster.”

At this year’s Dairy Business Association conference, the first speaker to address the participants was to be Gov. Scott Walker, one of agribusinesses’ biggest champions and a fitting example of the political payoff resulting from the millions of dollars spent by Big Ag on lobbying and campaign contributions. Meanwhile, Wisconsin citizens and family farmers are making their voices heard by speaking out against factory farms: Wisconsinites have already signed over 12,000 petitions in support of protecting Wisconsin’s lakes from factory farm runoff.

“The justification for industrial agriculture is the misguided notion that it’s done because we need to ‘feed the world,’ when in reality much of it feeds animals and ethanol plants,” said Jim Goodman, owner of Northwood Farm, a certified organic dairy farm in Wonewoc, WI. “CAFOs have spread because this model is profitable– not necessarily for the farmer or the community, but for the grain companies and processors that have basically told farmers how we must farm.”

Wisconsin Environment called on state leaders to take immediate steps to address the pollution plaguing Wisconsin’s waterways and rein in corporate agribusiness’s power. “To protect Wisconsin’s precious lakes and rivers, state officials must stand up to pressure from factory farming lobbyists and refuse to permit new factory farms,” said Siegner.


Wisconsin Environment is a statewide, citizen-based advocacy group working for clean air, clean water and open space.

staff | TPIN

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