Legislature Mulls Factory-Farm Moratorium

A sign protesting Foster Farms in Scio

Proponents says HB 2667 will let regulators catch up to discoveries about factory-farm pollution before 3 large-scale chicken farms set up shop in Linn County.

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A bill before the Oregon Legislature would temporarily prohibit the Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Agriculture from issuing or renewing licenses for confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Proponents of the effort — which was introduced as House Bill 2667 but which Sen. Jeff Golden (D-Ashland) says will move forward as Senate Bill 85 — say the moratorium would give the state a chance to develop public health and safety guidelines for factory farms. Detractors say the bill would cause unnecessary delays on Oregon’s ability to meet rising demand for poultry without any public health benefit.

Kendra Kimbirauskas raises cattle, pigs, and goats on her farm in Scio; she is also a cofounder of Farmers Against Foster Farms, which is lobbying for the bill and against the siting of large-scale poultry operations near Scio.

According to the organization’s website, Linn County has approved permits for three large chicken farms — two of whom raise poultry for the California-based food company Foster Farms and one owned by the North Carolina-based Gallus Equity Partners.

Kimbirauskas tells Oregon Business she’s not opposed to a large-scale animal feeding operation in her backyard, just that her county lacks the ability to put safeguards on the facilities. She says the moratorium will give regulators the chance to “catch up” with new discoveries surrounding the potential community impact of factory farms.

Kimbirauskas says her 300-member group is concerned about water contamination and ammonia produced by the operations, especially since the factories are sited close to schools and river systems with threatened fish species.

According to Kimbirauskas, the Oregon Department of Agriculture has limited tools to regulate industrial scale farming operations, allowing factory farms to take advantage of Oregon’s farmer protections laws, like the Right to Farm law, which shields farms from legal action based on smell, noise, and other complaints.

“In Oregon, we don’t define when a farm becomes a factory. If something is considered agriculture, it can be sited anywhere and there’s nothing that the local county governments can do to stop it, or put safeguards around it,” says Kimbirauskas. “We need better rules around groundwater extraction, we have to look at whether county government should have authority to put safeguards on where these operations can go, and we need an air program.”

“We know that when you confine animals in these factories, there are emissions from ammonia or hydrogen sulfide or any other 160 gases that are emitted from livestock production, and we know that those have impacts on people,” says Kimbirauskas.

Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation

Bill Mattos, president of the California Poultry Federation, and industry advocacy group of which Foster Farms is a member, says his organization’s research shows Oregonians want chicken raised locally, and that enacting the moratorium will mean Oregon won’t be able to keep up with demand.

Mattos says the studies cited by the bill’s advocates aren’t accurately citing the literature. He says since the ammonia studies were conducted on the East Coast, they will not apply to Foster Farms’ Oregon operations, where the chicken warehouses will be spaced further apart.

He says interior ventilation systems mean no smell or harmful materials will escape the facility and make their way into surrounding areas, that odor around the facilities is minimal, and that since their chicken litter is dry, there won’t be any waterway pollution.

“The poultry industry is one of the most sophisticated, cleanest industries you could imagine,” Mattos tells Oregon Business. “These farms are actually cleaner and have less pollutants than most of the backyard flocks. We just don’t think this moratorium makes any sense right now, so the coalition is working pretty hard to make sure we can stop this.”

A 2018 report published by the Environmental Integrity Project, a nonprofit that advocates for enforcement of environmental laws, found large-scale broiler chicken produce 24 tons of ammonia per year on average, double the previous Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimation. The EPA found ammonia toxicity can lead to the death of aquatic animals in nearby water bodies.

In 2019, the American Public Health Association recommended a moratorium on confined animal feeding operations due to the large quantities of airborne particulate matter linked to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases. The National Academy of Sciences found factory farm air pollution to be behind 12,000 premature deaths every year. 

Other studies have shown higher risks of respiratory issues in areas where poultry confined animal feeding operations are concentrated. Animal waste can also contaminate waterways and groundwater, leading to pathogens like salmonella and campylobacter in drinking water. Oregon has more miles of polluted waterways than any other state, which is one reason the bill’s chief sponsors give as a reason for the moratorium.

Mattos says the regulatory pause would mean a loss of potential jobs in Oregon, and that all the moratorium would accomplish is making chicken producers ship chicken into Oregon from elsewhere. He says that means more trucks and air pollution involved in transportation, which also impacts air quality.

When it comes to Oregon’s lighter regulations on industrial CAFOs, he says there are enough regulations to follow getting facilities built, and that so far, these facilities have done an excellent job regulating themselves.

“We have a very sophisticated operation where managers come in and check over their farms for any kind of water waste,” says Mattos. “As far as the oversight from the Department of Agriculture and EPA, if there’s a complaint, they can go out there and check them right away, and they do. We have not had issues with any major regulating departments after a good site is planned.”

Golden tells OB the next step for SB 85 will be a joint informational session on Feb. 28 where both the house and senate Natural Resources Committees will get to question state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Environmental Quality, to decide if a moratorium is necessary while agencies figure out how to regulate industrial feeding operations.

“Right now, there’s a disagreement on whether we have an adequate regulatory structure or not,” says Golden. “We’ll hear testimony about what’s going on right now and what the agencies regard as challenges. Within a couple of weeks of that, I expect to have a public hearing in my committee.”

Golden says he helped introduce the bill out of a strong interest in developing local food systems, and concern the state is growing dependent on industrial agriculture.

“Industrial practices are chemically intensive, hard on the soils and sometimes water systems, and factory farms play into all that. We haven’t had hardly any in Oregon, but they’ve gotten more involved,” says Golden. “There was a lot of attention around a couple of cattle CAFOs before I got the legislature. Last year, there was a big issue around poultry CAFOs near Salem. There are a lot of folks who want us to address the issue.”

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