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In Wisconsin, small cities need extra rules for CAFOs

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Laketown, Wisconsin, is a rural group of 949 folks, unfold out among the many inexperienced fields and ample lakes of the state’s northwestern nook, simply over an hour outdoors of Minneapolis. Lisa Doerr has lived there since 2001, when she and her husband began rising hay and grass for livestock and elevating horses. The city and its surrounding space, the St. Croix River Valley, are house to numerous small farmers like them; a lot of the meals folks eat right here is grown regionally.

“It’s not an enormous company place,” Doerr stated. “There’s so much to guard right here.” 

Now, Laketown is on the middle of a battle over this rural character, because the city goals to restrict air pollution from massive, industrial livestock farms, also referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Over the previous few months, Laketown and two close by cities, Commerce Lake and Eureka, have handed legal guidelines regulating how CAFOs can function, requiring them to indicate how they may get rid of lifeless animals and keep away from polluting groundwater. However these insurance policies have confronted stiff pushback from the state’s highly effective agricultural foyer, which has known as the brand new rules unlawful. 

Up to now decade, the industrialization of agriculture has led to a pointy rise within the variety of CAFOs, as massive livestock operations provide cheaper meat and crowd out smaller farmers. Between 2012 and 2017, the variety of animals living on factory farms grew by 14 %, at the same time as the general variety of operations shrank. From North Carolina to Iowa, CAFOs have been discovered to pollute consuming water, launch noxious gases, and encourage the unfold of illness because of the animals’ confined circumstances. In March, a nationwide outbreak of avian flu led an egg farm in Wisconsin to kill 2.7 million chickens, creating insupportable smells for a group downwind of the location the place their our bodies have been dumped. 

Even when CAFOs legally get rid of animal waste — normally by spreading it on close by fields as fertilizer — the sheer quantity of manure can overload native streams and groundwater provides with nitrates and micro organism, stated Adam Voskuil, a Wisconsin-based lawyer with the nonprofit Midwest Environmental Advocates. That’s particularly problematic in states like Wisconsin, the place greater than 900,000 residents rely on private wells for his or her consuming water.

“There’s a well being concern related to that aggregation of contaminants and its transport into non-public households,” Voskuil stated. 

Aerial view of a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Wisconsin. Large windowless buildings, waste lagoons, and barns are visible
Aerial view of a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, in Wisconsin.
Grist / Amelia Bates

In mild of those dangers, Polk County — the place Laketown is positioned — enacted a one-year moratorium on CAFOs in 2019 to present it time to review the issue and develop an answer. The problem grew extra pressing after an Iowa-based firm announced plans to build a hog farm in close by Commerce Lake, which might home 26,000 pigs and produce 9 million gallons of waste every year. In 2021, Laketown and 5 different communities shaped the Massive Livestock City Partnership to analysis potential issues with CAFOs and develop a mannequin ordinance that particular person cities may undertake to control them. 

The ordinance requires livestock operations with greater than 700 animal items to use for a allow from the city and pay an software payment. The proprietor has to share the power’s plans to forestall the unfold of infectious illnesses, implement a waste administration technique, include poisonous air air pollution and odors, report uncommon animal deaths, preserve fireplace security, and keep away from damaging any close by water sources, in addition to reveal that the undertaking will present a web profit to the city. The applying must be signed by no less than one “certified and professionally licensed” engineer or geoscientist who has reviewed the proposal.

Since Laketown passed its ordinance in February and two different cities adopted in March, their efforts have confronted stiff resistance. On April 13, two dairy lobbying teams wrote a letter to the  Wisconsin Division of Agriculture, Commerce and Shopper Safety, or DATCP, asking the state to overview the ordinances and arguing that the “cities have clearly ignored present legal guidelines, rules and associated overview and approval processes.” And late final month, two different dairy associations — Enterprise Dairy Cooperative and the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance — wrote to Laketown directly, telling the city clerk that the CAFO ordinance “accommodates no less than 16 provisions which can be preempted by state regulation and unlawful,” together with imposing charges and requiring plans for odor prevention.

In a press release, DATCP spokesperson Sam Otterson stated the division is “gathering data and figuring out the problems so {that a} authorized overview can decide the scope of Division authority and obligation underneath relevant regulation and code provisions.” 

On the coronary heart of the battle is a 2004 regulation that stops native governments from enacting stricter rules for CAFOs than the state requirements, which require CAFOs to submit “nutrient administration plans” to indicate how they’ll get rid of their waste, set minimal “setbacks” or distances between these services and close by properties, and set up requirements for manure storage. If services meet these standards, cities are required to situation them permits. 

Although the regulation allows exceptions if native governments can “clearly present that the necessities are wanted to guard public well being or security,” Doerr, who chaired the Massive Livestock City Partnership, stated the brand new ordinances don’t regulate the place CAFOs are sited — solely how they function. Requiring them to have a plan to attenuate air air pollution, guarantee fireplace security, and cope with biohazards akin to an avian flu outbreak is a part of the cities’ police powers and crucial to guard residents, she and others have argued. 

Lisa Doerr stands in a hay field in Wisconsin.
Lisa Doerr grows livestock feed and raises horses on her farm in Laketown, Wisconsin.
Lisa Doerr

“We’ve got attorneys which have checked out [the ordinance],” stated Don Anderson, chair of the Eureka city board. “They helped us formulate it, and are fairly assured that it’s throughout the regulation.”

Wisconsin isn’t the one state the place native governments are going through off towards industry-friendly state rules for CAFOs. In Missouri, the place an industrial hog farm spilled greater than 300,000 gallons of waste into native streams final spring, a 2019 regulation bars counties from issuing guidelines for CAFOs that differ from the state’s insurance policies in any manner. Two counties sued to challenge the law, which is headed to the state Supreme Courtroom. 

All 50 states have handed some type of “right-to-farm” laws, which shield livestock operations from being sued over “nuisances” like odors or air pollution. And inside Wisconsin, state officers are combating to control CAFOs even underneath the scope of their present authority. Late final month, one of many state’s largest dairy farms sued the state Division of Pure Sources for denying its request to almost double in dimension.

For Doerr and different Laketown residents, authorized threats are a consequence of difficult the agricultural {industry}, which they are saying shouldn’t be held accountable for its affect on well being and the atmosphere. 

“It’s just about our life’s work that we’ve got invested on this farm,” Doerr stated. “And we actually aren’t going to sit down right here and have them inform us that they’re going to usher in some big companies and put a CAFO on the finish of our driveway.” 


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