Advocates call on state officials to address climate harm from Oregon’s mega-dairies with immediate mega-dairy moratorium.

Salem, OR –  Today, 20 national, local and state based animal welfare, family farm, environmental, and food safety groups, submitted a letter to Governor Brown urging her to enact an immediate mega-dairy moratorium to protect Oregon’s climate, air, water, animals and family farms. 

Mega-dairies, which the groups define as having 2,500 or more cows, pollute the air and water, drain Oregon’s rivers and aquifers, subject cows to excessive confinement and abuse, and push family-scale farms out of business, according to the letter. Mega-dairies are also a significant contributor to dangerous greenhouse gas emissions.

Governor Brown enacted Executive Order 20-04 on March 10th directing state agencies to do everything within their authority to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions to 45% below 1990 levels by 2035. Under the Executive Order, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) submitted their greenhouse gas reduction plans on May 19th. Emissions from industrial dairies were not included in the DEQ’s plan, despite advocates’ repeated requests for action by state officials to meaningfully address them in any policy solutions for climate change.  The Dairy Air Quality Task Force, a Governor appointed, multi-stakeholder group, offered consensus recommendations in 2008 for regulatory measures to reduce this pollution, but these recommendations have sat on the shelf since and have not been implemented. 

“Why aren’t large, industrial farms in our state required by law to control how much air pollution they’re creating? Friends of Family Farmers participated in the Dairy Air Quality Task Force (DAQTF) over a decade ago. We came up with voluntary and regulatory recommendations that both sides were happy with and absolutely nothing came of it. It’s past time for action.” said Shari Sirkin, Executive Director of Friends of Family Farmers.

Emissions from mega-dairies include many toxic air pollutants, including methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide that contribute to climate change. Between 1990 and 2017, U.S. methane emissions from dairy cattle manure rose by 134 percent. The large quantities of manure mega-dairies produce are also a significant source of air pollution that contributes to regional haze in the Columbia River Gorge. 

“You can’t make the meaningful cuts necessary to reduce Oregon’s carbon emissions without a moratorium on industrial mega-dairies,” said Hannah Connor, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “If Gov. Brown wants to do the right thing, she needs to follow the science and not bow to politics or the industrial farming lobby. Oregon’s plan simply cannot ignore the well-documented climate and health harms caused by toxic air pollutants such as methane and nitrous oxide.”

Mega-dairies consume large amounts of water for irrigation of crops, drinking water for cows and a variety of dairy operations. This use comes at the expense of Oregon’s rivers, streams and groundwater aquifers, all of which are already fully tapped most of the year and will become even more stressed with climate change. This renewed call to enact a mega-dairy moratorium to reduce Oregon’s greenhouse gas emissions comes as DEQ and the Oregon Department of Agriculture consider a permit application for a new mega-dairy in Morrow County, Easterday Farms. 

“A mega-dairy with 30,000 cows uses as much water as a medium-sized city,” said Brian Posewitz, an attorney at WaterWatch of Oregon. “Oregon’s rivers, streams and aquifers cannot sustain that kind of use right now.”

“We fought back when Governor Brown and her agencies allowed another massive mega-dairy to be built in Eastern Oregon in 2016, where the drinking water is already contaminated with excess nitrates, but now the State is poised to make the same mistake again,” said Amy van Saun, senior attorney with Center for Food Safety. “With the Washington-based Easterday operation positioned to re-open the disastrous Lost Valley mega-dairy and add another nearly 30,000 cows to this already-burdened area, we need a moratorium now more than ever to protect community drinking water.”

Mega-dairies also raise animal welfare concerns. “Mega-dairies confine thousands of cows in small spaces, rarely give them room to roam, and subject them to extreme production demands. In short, the cows get treated as machines instead of living things,” said Rajesh Reddy, a board member of Humane Voters Oregon.“There are numerous reasons to enact an immediate moratorium on mega-dairies, but the industry’s contribution to climate change should suffice on its own if Oregon is to become a true climate leader,” said Tarah Heinzen, senior attorney with Food & Water Watch.

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