Animal Defenders of Westchester

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Animal Defenders of Westchester
P.O. Box 205
Yonkers, NY 10704

Stop Factory Farming


From Jim Lehrer's NEWSHOUR on PBS, Ch 13, June 3, 2004 (on PROGRAM a-z go to N for NEWSHOUR)

June 3, 2004

A group of prominent American scientists recently wrote a report accusing the Bush administration of "misrepresenting and suppressing scientific knowledge for political purposes." Jeffrey Kaye explores the intersection of politics and science on one North Carolina pig farm.

Online NewsHour Special Coverage:
Science Reports

Dec. 17, 2003:
The presence of salmon in the waterways of the Pacific Northwest have been increasing in recent years, but the Bush administration and some climatologists disagree over who can take the credit. .

Dec. 11, 2003:
Former Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt was named the new EPA administrator in early November and has made some significant changes in how the agency regulates air emissions.

JEFFREY KAYE: Climate change and air pollution. Endangered species. Forest management.

On these and many other topics, President Bush came under criticism earlier this year from 60 prominent scientists for, in their words, "misrepresenting and suppressing scientific knowledge for political purposes." The critics included 20 Nobel Laureates. At the same time, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report, "Scientific Integrity In Policy Making," that listed instances of what it described as the administration's "misuse of science."

The president's science adviser, John Marburger, fired back with a point-by-point rebuttal. He called the accusations "wrong and misleading, inaccurate." And he said "the administration is applying the highest scientific standards in decision-making."

One example in North Carolina

One intersection of science and politics is the $100 billion a year livestock industry, in particular, industrial pig farms.

Consolidation over the last ten to fifteen years has resulted in fewer but larger swine operations. Animal waste is a major pollutant, and environmentalists are at odds with the Bush administration over the use of science in its regulation.

North Carolina's ten million hogs produce twice as much feces and urine as the populations of the cities of Los Angeles, New York and Chicago combined. Industrial farms, most with thousands of hogs each, store the waste in open-air pits, called lagoons. They spray the waste, untreated, as manure on adjacent fields.

Neighbors say the stench can be unbearable. The Morning Star Baptist church in Battleboro is about half a mile from a large hog farm.

Evelyn Powell runs the church day care center.

EVELYN POWELL: The kids say it stinks out there. They get nauseous, they get sick when it is at a high pitch, and they are unable to go outside and play and enjoy our quality of life at the day care.

McARTHER KING: I like to walk everyday, but sometimes I come out, I can't even walk because the odor is so bad.

JEFFREY KAYE: Powell calls the lagoons "open air toilets," and notes residents have to keep their septic tanks covered.

EVELYN POWELL: The hog farmers can open theirs up and just be a great big football field full of manure all day long and we are supposed to smell it and accept it. I think it should be unconstitutional to mess up somebody's community, the way they have messed ours up.

JEFFREY KAYE: Environmental activists such as Rick Dove of the Riverkeeper Alliance charge that pig waste creates more than just a stink.

RICK DOVE: The land that you're looking at is also very poorly suited for this kind of operation.

JEFFREY KAYE: Dove takes visitors on aerial tours of industrial pig operations. The farms, concentrated in the eastern part of the state, produce more manure than the land can absorb, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dove often spots pig waste from sprayers being spread on saturated fields, running off into waterways.

RICK DOVE: Wetlands normally process nutrients, and they're the place where the algae grows. They're sort of the filters of the water before it's released to the ocean. The problem is though, you're looking at wetlands that are completely overburdened. These wetlands are being worked to death trying to process these nutrients that run off these hog factories.

How do livestock operations affect residents?

JEFFREY KAYE: Eastern North Carolina is crisscrossed by drainage ditches. One runs by the house near Stantonburg where Buddy Joiner Junior and his Son Steve have lived for more than 30 years.

BUDDY JOINER, JR.: It comes off the hog farm and goes all the way around my lot back to the sandpit pipe, there.

JEFFREY KAYE: Hog waste from the spray field across the street runs off into ditch water, which often glistens with grease and slime.

Researchers have found polluted well water near some hog farms. The Joiners say their well is contaminated.

BUDDY JOINER, JR.: You see how close it is to the ditch? And this drainoff from the hog farm, you can see how close it is to my well.

JEFFREY KAYE: Public outcry has led the state of North Carolina to ban new or expanded large-scale livestock operations. But the hog industry says most farmers abide by strict state rules.

GERALD WARREN: If anybody wants to be responsible, it's me because I live here.

JEFFREY KAYE: Gerald Warren, who has 40,000 pigs, says farmers have to file hog waste management plans with the state. Of particular concern is nitrogen which can be a pollutant.

GERALD WARREN: So we know specifically how much waste they're going to generate and how much nitrogen is going to be produced and how much spray area that we're going to have to have to apply that nitrogen and do it in a responsible way so that it can be taken up and used by crops and that we don't have any contamination of nitrogen in the groundwater.

JEFFREY KAYE: But environmentalists say farmers often ignore waste management plans. And last year, the General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said loopholes in federal regulations and inconsistent enforcement leave an estimated 60 percent of the largest animal farms unregulated.

WORKER: You ready?


JEFFREY KAYE: To provide regulators with useful data, scientists are trying to get a better handle on air emissions from hog farms. A team led by Viney Aneja, professor of air quality and environmental technology at North Carolina State University is measuring ammonia released from a hog waste lagoon.

VINEY ANEJA: This is a device that helps us... tells us how much gases are coming out from the lagoon.

JEFFREY KAYE: Gases from the lagoon are flushed into a mobile laboratory for analysis.

VINEY ANEJA: Those gases are being flushed out and being analyzed in the instrument inside, a spectroscopic instrument inside which is an ammonia analyzer.

JEFFREY KAYE: Ammonia releases nitrogen into the atmosphere. When it falls to earth, it can damage the environment.

VINEY ANEJA: For example, it can acidify the soil over a long period of time, it can lead to over- enrichment of soil thereby degrading sensitive ecosystems. But equally importantly, it can have a direct impact on the atmospheric environment which can lead to the formation of fine particulate matter or PM Fine, as it is called.

JEFFREY KAYE: Fine particulate matter can cause haze as well as respiratory and eye problems. Researchers are also collecting air samples to try to analyze odor.

JESSICA BLUNDEN: We are collecting smells. And anything that is in the ambient air really. But really what we are looking for is the compounds that are causing the odors here on the farms.

JEFFREY KAYE: The science done around hog farms leads to a basic conclusion says Eric Schaeffer.

ERIC SCHAEFFER: You're dealing with an operation that's as big and as tough and as dirty, in fact, dirtier, than a refinery or a power plant.

JEFFREY KAYE: Schaeffer would police the swine industry by measuring the pollution output of hog barns the same way factories are monitored. Schaeffer, now head of the Environmental Integrity Project, was chief of civil enforcement at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA. He quit in 2002 because he says when the Bush administration came in, his superiors would not allow him to move as aggressively as he wanted.

ERIC SCHAEFFER: Our thought was to go into those operations and get them to test their emissions. It, it's their responsibility to know what they're putting into the environment. The way it was put to me is, if there's a imminent and substantial endangerment, and we can prove that, then perhaps that would be okay. But that's a high threshold and the signals I was getting was, it's, it's over. The party's over for enforcement.

JEFFREY KAYE: Robert Kaplan, who is currently at the EPA's Office of Civil Enforcement, says the agency did reconsider its policing of huge livestock operations.

ROBERT KAPLAN: And I think people did put on the brakes and say "wait we have let good science guide good decisions." That definitely happened. And there was a review of the cases at the time.

The EPA's actions on the situation

JEFFREY KAYE: EPA officials say the decision was made at the urging of the livestock industry. Meat producers contended that regulation of industrial livestock operations was getting ahead of the science.

Dave Roper is past president of the National Pork Producers Council.

DAVE ROPER: There isn't sufficient data out there and we're trying to help the EPA get this sufficient data, to identify what the threshold is, what the look-up chart would be.

JEFFREY KAYE: In 2001, the meat industry persuaded the EPA to delay strict enforcement of clean air rules, and to instead fund a National Academies of Science study of the issue. Their report, released one year later, found industrial farms were sources of several critical pollutants.

RUSSELL DICKERSON: Pollutants that are tied to: Morbidity and mortality among American people; to eco-system damage; surface systems; forests and grass lands; aquatic systems like estuaries and fresh water lakes and streams.

JEFFREY KAYE: Russell Dickerson, an atmospheric chemist, and Rick Kohn, an animal scientist, both at the University of Maryland, were among the study's authors. Their report did urge more research, but it also faulted the government for failing to adequately test and limit air emissions from livestock operations.

RUSSELL DICKERSON: We know we have to control ammonia emissions from agricultural practices.

JEFFREY KAYE: With some urgency.

RUSSELL DICKERSON: Indeed. I think it's time to act now.

JEFFREY KAYE: The report also offered a roadmap for regulators. The scientists recommended that pollutants from livestock operations be calculated by subtracting the amount of nitrogen in the animals from the amount in the food they eat. But the EPA did not step up enforcement after the academies' report came out. Citing the need for further research, the EPA is working out a legal agreement proposed by the industry that would further delay enforcement. Under the deal, farms which agree to participate in a two- year pollution study will be forgiven for past air pollution violations.

ROBERT KAPLAN: What the agreement says is: As long as you are definitely on the road to compliance, in short order, definitely on the road to compliance, we will not sue you. What we want to do is get the best possible data to drive the establishment of solid credible scientifically based emissions factors. And I think we are being responsive to the National Academy of Sciences.

JEFFREY KAYE: Kaplan says the agreement will allow the EPA to do needed research and deal with an entire industry rather than engage in protracted legal battles with individual farms. But Schaeffer believes that in the name of science, the Bush administration is giving the industry just what it wants: time.

ERIC SCHAEFFER: Delay means money. I mean, time is money for the industry. So, rather than turn this again into an academic question that we're going to sort of ponder and study for years and years and years, why not use the authority the government already has, to order the company to stop the nuisance, to do something about the problem.

JEFFREY KAYE: So while activists argue science provides a basis for immediate action, the livestock industry and government say gaps in the research demand a longer timetable. Caught in the middle are people who live next to hog farms who see no resolution to their complaints anytime soon.

Please thank Jim Lehrer for this report and suggest he air PEACEABLE KINGDOM: [email protected]  

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