Ohioans Fear Pollution from Factory Farms

SPEAKER: Sorry for the delay I think the rain slowed everybody down a little bit tonight but I want to welcome everyone here tonight…

On a raining evening, a few hundred people met at a high school auditorium in Pickaway County

SPEAKER: We are an area group of concerned citizens, concerned about what factory farms – mega farms – mean for our quality of life. We think they pose a potential threat to our quality of life and that’s what we’re here to talk about tonight

The Community for Clean Air and Water is among a number of groups opposed to giant-sized factory farms in Ohio. One of the speakers, attorney Richard Sahli says the state rewards mega farms through what he calls a ‘sweetheart regulatory system ‘

RICHARD SAHLI: This one industry is single-handedly transforming the 150-year-old dairy industry in Ohio. And no one’s paying it much attention to it outside of the agribusiness circles.

Sahli says recently enacted state laws benefit the factory farm industry

SAHLI: The forgotten Ohioan is the rural citizen who is around one of these sites regulated by the Department of Agriculture. There’s no controls on odor. The department could put in a meaningful system to protect groundwater and to protect their wells. And they don’t even have that in place.

Caught in the middle of the factory farm issue in Pickaway County is John Stevenson, a county commissioner. He knows first hand the pros and cons of mega farms. His next-door neighbor is Dutch dairyman Andy Miedema, who runs a 650-cow milking operation. Stevenson says his own lifestyle has suffered from what he describes as the dairy’s aroma. But he says large livestock operations help family farmers because they keep processors in the state

JOHN STEVENSON: One of the larger dairies here in the county, when he learned that a 700 cow heard was going in next door to me told me that was the greatest thing that could happen – he was presently milking 300. He had the vision to know that if we didn’t have the milk production in Ohio we were going to lose our milk processors and then his industry was going down. Now it does add to the industry. It will keep processors here. We used to have an awful lot of pork processing plants. Well we don’t now. They all go to Pennsylvania or Iowa or Michigan or someplace because we don’t have the numbers.

SOUND: IN THE BARN

Stevenson’s neighbor, Dairyman Andy Miedema stopped to talk for a moment in one of his two loafing barns that each house more than 300 cows. Miedema anticipated community concerns about possible pollution when he established his Pickaway County farm. But he’s confident, he says that his mega diary is not polluting.

ANDY MIEDEMA: We protect the environment. We need to have it. We need to protect the environment good because the regulation is that way. Like manure, that’s the main issue. Like odor. We have to do that based on the regulations that are already here in Ohio. If we do something wrong then somebody can complain then we have to change that issue.

The Ohio Farmers Union isn’t as confident with the state’s regulatory procedures. President Joe Logan says there has yet to be a comprehensive, coordinated effort to examine the impact factory farms have on ground and surface water. Attorney Rick Sahli agrees

SAHLI: They’re getting a free pass on their environmental impacts. It’s an unjust system and I think we’ll see a lot of focus on changing it in the future. I just hope action’s taken before there’s a lot of damage.

Sam Hendren, WOSU News

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