September 21, 2009

Our Lovely Factory Farms @ Work

This time it's factory dairy farming, part of the NY Times' excellent series on water pollution. An example of the impact of dirty water?

In Morrison, more than 100 wells were polluted by agricultural runoff within a few months, according to local officials. As parasites and bacteria seeped into drinking water, residents suffered from chronic diarrhea, stomach illnesses and severe ear infections.

“Sometimes it smells like a barn coming out of the faucet,” said Lisa Barnard, who lives a few towns over, and just 15 miles from the city of Green Bay.

Tests of her water showed it contained E. coli, coliform bacteria and other contaminants found in manure. Last year, her 5-year-old son developed ear infections that eventually required an operation. Her doctor told her they were most likely caused by bathing in polluted water, she said.

Runoff from these farms is very poorly regulated, the Times' Charles Duhigg explains. And they seem to skirt around the regs that do exist. And then there's this:

And regulations passed during the administration of President George W. Bush allow many of those farms to self-certify that they will not pollute, and thereby largely escape regulation.

Wow. There's some tough regulation. Self certification. Seems a bit like asking a murderer to remain in his house for a prison sentence, as long as he self certifies that, honest, he won't leave the house or kill anybody ever, ever again.

Despite what many, including many family farmers, think, regulation in and of itself is not bad. Excessive regulation is bad, as is the practice of purposefully not enforcing regulation.

The biggest problem, in agriculture, though, is probably that big ag pretty much writes the regs. As a result, they get the veneer of being a "heavily regulated industry," when in reality the regs are chock full of loopholes large enough to accommodate the space shuttle, but loopholes that really only benefit the big guys.

It's a terrible system. One most legislators seem perfectly willing to maintain.

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