Guest Commentary: Six Years Later, Oregon Advocates Again Call for Fighting Factory Farms

Oregon’s factory farms jeopardize our access to fresh air and clean water, our land and our communities.

That’s why Food & Water Watch and our allies in the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition successfully pressured the Department of Agriculture six years ago to shut down Lost Valley Farms, one of Oregon’s most notorious mega-dairy polluters. Lost Valley, which was slated to confine 30,000 dairy cows, racked up over 200 environmental violations in just 18 months. The operation failed to provide workers with clean water or working bathrooms, cows were found standing ankle-deep in their own waste and the nitrates stemming from mishandled manure further jeopardized the groundwater used by nearby communities.

After the Lost Valley disaster, the site was quickly sold to the Easterday family, which attempted to reopen the mega-dairy. Like Lost Valley, they were quickly embroiled in scandal, including Cody Easterday being sued by Tyson Foods for fleecing more than $200 million, and the site racked up dozens of water quality violations.

Unable to obtain full permitting, the operation was again sold in 2023. Now the site sits inactive, but we mustn’t let our guard down. The threat of another entity applying for a new permit to reopen the problematic operation is bigger than ever.

This site is located in Morrow County, home to two-thirds of our state’s Latinx population, where throughout three decades of state inaction residents have been continuously raising the alarms over dangerously high nitrate contamination. While no community deserves to live near a factory farm, the perpetual threat of another mega-dairy in an area already burdened with nitrate contamination is a serious issue of environmental justice. Oregonians deserve better.

Along with the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition, we have achieved several victories since the battles against Lost Valley and Easterday. Most notably, we helped establish a key law, Senate Bill 85, that increases local control over factory farm siting, limits water waste by capping the “stockwater exemption” loophole and requires stronger protections for water quality near factory farms.

Using this new authority, Linn County has already enacted property setbacks prohibiting mega-poultry farms from opening up within a mile of residential property. Local farmer groups have successfully pressured the Department of Agriculture to reconsider its approval of JS Ranch – a mega-chicken facility also slated to be built in Linn County. Even with these victories, we know there is still a lot of work to be done.

In the years since Lost Valley was shut down, we have watched determined communities in Morrow and Umatilla Counties continue their battle against dangerously high nitrate levels in groundwater stemming in part from the reckless mismanagement of nearby factory farms. We have seen a mega-dairy in Tillamook county spill 300,000 gallons of liquid animal waste into Tillamook Bay. We saw two factory farms in the Willamette Valley slaughter 800,000 chickens after flocks were infected with the highly contagious avian flu. And we have witnessed the heartbreaking decline of family farms coinciding with the expansion of industrialized factory farms; from 2002 to 2022 Oregon lost half its family-scale dairies  — a net loss of 620 – while mega-dairies doubled in size, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

To be clear, Lost Valley and Easterday are not simply a case of “a few bad actors.” In fact, the corporate factory farm model requires the exploitation of our land, labor and resources and it inevitably kills family farms.

Six years after we beat Lost Valley, communities across Oregon are still fighting, still demanding our elected officials build on SB 85 and take action to stop the flagrant disregard for our environment, public health and hardworking family farmers. We won’t stop until Big Ag is held accountable for the damages inflicted on our communities. That’s why Food & Water Watch and our allies are continuing to call on our legislators to stop the expansion of factory farms and prioritize a sustainable, safe, clean and fair food system that protects family farmers, our land and our communities.

by Aimee Travis, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Aimee Travis is an Oregon organizer for Food & Water Watch, a national grassroots organization fighting for safe food, clean water and a livable climate. In Oregon.

This guest commentary may or may not reflect the views of The Corvallis Advocate, or its management, staff, supporters and advertisers. 

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