Renee Lewis writes for Fusion, an environmental "news" website. Unfortunately, as with too many stories in environmental publications about farming, this one shows either Ms. Lewis is very ill-informed about farming or she has little regard for the facts.
Let's start with the topic tag: Unregulated manure.
Ms Lewis, here's a tip: Look at this website: http://www.wadairyplan.org/ Study it for a little bit then ask whoever your source is for manure regulations if they are aware of it. If they are not, you can find more knowledgeable sources. If they are, you can find more honest sources.
Let's look at a few of your statements: they [cows] produce more manure than the environment can accommodate, environmentalists say.
The regulations referred to above require ZERO discharge of manure to water. Citations and penalties are given to those who do not comply. Fortunately for all of us who care about clean water, the Department of Agriculture which enforces these regulations reports of 95% compliance. Anti-farm activists like to mention how many cows there are in the state and how much they poop. But the people in our state poop, too. Oh, but we have sewage systems to protect from all that. Right, and we also have extensive manure management systems that do the same thing, but in this case allow the organic fertilizer (cow poop) to be used to grow crops.
Lewis: It [manure] is stacked, churned and composted, stored in open, unlined lagoons, and spread on fields as fertilizer.
Yes, it is organic fertilizer, about the best stuff there is for growing food. It mostly goes to help grow the crops that feed the cows that provide the organic fertilizer. Sounds like recycling which we thought was a good thing. Unlined? That's another lie spread by anti-farm activists. We suggest you check with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the federal scientists with the US Department of Agriculture charged with creating standards for manure lagoon liners. The current standard is proving to be very effective in preventing manure from contaminating groundwater as this video will show you. (Do Manure Lagoons Leak? video)
Here's another of your statements we have a problem with: What’s more, unsafe levels of nitrates found in groundwater environmentalists say resulted from livestock and manure applied to crops as fertilizer have been found in at least 20% of the Lower Yakima Valley’s private wells.
First, the risk of nitrates in groundwater related to public health is very much in question as this webpage will show you--especially given the new emphasis on nitrates as an essential element of heart health. Second, nitrates above the current EPA level are found in almost all areas where farming activities have existed for years. In Yakima area, for example, current groundwater monitoring is showing that while nitrogen levels on fields from manure application have declined substantially in the few years, groundwater showing nitrates has not changed. Why? Because it is most likely the high nitrates in groundwater are a legacy of years of heavy commercial fertilizer application on sugar beet fields--many of which are now used to grow feed crops for cows.
Another statement: Some of them [environmentalists] question whether nitrates in the groundwater may be connected to a cluster of rare birth defects identified in Yakima County. Then you go on to report: Research has linked exposure to nitrates in drinking water to a higher risk for the always fatal birth defect called Anencephaly, in which a baby is born without parts of the brain and skull.
That is a very horrible disease and a terrible tragedy for those families suffering that. But for you to repeat the vicious nonsense of your so-called environmental experts is simply irresponsible. Now, to your credit you point out that the Washington Department of Health investigated and found most cases involved municipal water, not groundwater. You even quote someone from the Department emphasizing that there is no link to this disease and nitrates. You could have completed this by showing that on the Department website they suggest that mothers should eat leafy vegetables to help prevent this horrible birth defect. Ms. Lewis, please check what is in leafy vegetables: nitrates. Lots of nitrates. Celery and spinach can have nitrates 2500 times the amount allowed in groundwater.
With this important information in hand, why would you come back to your expert on this subject, Ellicott Dandy and let him have the last word? Mr. Dandy apparently does not believe that environmental justice advocacy should have anything to do with the truth when he states, despite the clear evidence to the contrary, “Is it really that much of a stretch when you see the overlap of Anencephaly and high rates of pollution?” Dandy asked. Well, Mr. Dandy, the overlap is with municipal water and the real experts have shown there is no link.
After this you go on to repeat the claims about blue baby syndrome and nitrates in groundwater. That's a common claim of anti-farm activists, but recent studies are showing that the link, established in the 1940s, has proven to be false. Bacteria in water used for infant formula, combined with genetic conditions, is now believed to be the cause. An EPA study showed of all the cases in California of this bad disease, very few occurred in farm country, most in the cities.
Mary Baechler is another of your "experts." When asked for proof of pollution from dairy farms, you report Beachler as saying: “One thing I can say with absolute certainty, and I’m in a unique perspective to know, the closer you get to a CAFO the higher nitrates you find." You might point Ms. Baechler (or maybe you could actually have done a little research on this) to the map below. It shows high nitrate concentrations in groundwater in the US. I don't think all those red areas correspond specifically to CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations--which anti-farm activists like to call dairy farms instead of Animal Milking Operations or Good Food Producing Operations)
We do appreciate you pointing out the efforts being made by farmers to reduce nitrates through new technologies and farm practices. Farmers take water quality and environmental stewardship very seriously and that is shown in the great many ways they pro-actively invest to protect water, land and habitat.
As Jason Sheehan, farmer from Sunnyside correctly pointed out, farmers are not saying they don't contribute to water quality issues. A close look at the regulations and pro-active measure of most dairy farmers will make it clear that there is very significant improvement and that improvement is on-going. But to use false and misleading information to support the malicious attacks of anti-farm activists such as Ms. Mendoza, does journalism and true environmental justice a disservice.
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