The signs were all there that trouble was brewing with the Lost Valley mega-dairy in Eastern Oregon. Lost Valley was originally permitted to raise 30,000 cows in confinement, and the factory farm was plagued with problems from the start. The dairy was proposed in a groundwater protection area—an area with existing groundwater pollution—in part because of pollution from the 70,000 head Threemile Canyon factory farm down the road. Local residents, members of local tribes, and a broad coalition of environmental, family farm, animal welfare, and public health organizations like Food & Water Watch opposed the permitting of this dairy from the start, and our concerns turned out to be well founded. During its first year in operation, Lost Valley racked up a long list of violations, put local drinking water at risk, was sued by Oregon’s Department of Agriculture (ODA) for egregious violations to its operating permit and was plagued by mismanagement. After years of campaigning, on June 27th, 2018 the state of Oregon revoked the permit for the embattled Lost Valley mega-dairy.
"The lesson: when large numbers of people come together to demand change we can win."
Unfortunately, issues like these are all too common in industrial agriculture, and that makes this victory significant. The lesson: when large numbers of people come together to demand change we can win.
Troubled from the Beginning
Lost Valley was proposed by California businessman Greg te Velde in 2016. During the initial permitting process over 4,000 people submitted comments, nearly all in opposition to the mega-dairy. Oregon Governor Kate Brown approved the facility despite this opposition and before the facility had secured the necessary water rights. The first red flag was in November 2016 when te Velde was ordered to pause building the mega-dairy as he lacked the proper construction permits.
Lost Valley opened for business in April 2017, and environmental, labor and animal welfare issues developed almost immediately. Manure pits and “mortality boxes” full of dead cows overflowed, drinking water for local residents was threatened, and there was never enough water to actually operate the facility. In May 2017 ODA’s own photographs showed cows standing ankle deep in a slurry of their own waste. Reports that workers had to provide their own drinking water and didn’t have access to restroom facilities because of a lack of water surfaced. Meanwhile, the dairy amassed a long list of permit violations due to manure spills and water problems among other issues.
The outrage over operating conditions at the mega-dairy, particularly once the photographs were made public, was immediate. Food & Water Watch and a dozen coalition partner organizations generated nearly 4,000 emails to Governor Brown calling on her to shut down the dairy immediately. The Tillamook County Creamery Association, which bought all of Lost Valley’s milk, cancelled its contract. Finally, Oregon’s Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality revoked Lost Valley’s permit, without which it will not be able to continue operating.
Factory Farming is a Systemic Problem
Even when a factory farm is closed, however, their pollution can persist and continue to harm nearby communities. In the case of Lost Valley, there is even a risk that the state will permit another factory farm to operate on the site.
The fact is, this particular mega-dairy, however egregious its violations were, is by no means an isolated example or a lone bad actor. To the contrary, the very model of factory farming is flawed. They produce enormous amounts of waste which pollute our air, water and communities, but the harms go way beyond that. As we explain in our recent report, The Urgent Case for a Ban on Factory Farms, factory farms put the safety of our food and water at risk, harm the welfare of animals, exploit workers, destroy the rural communities they are purported to benefit, and contribute to climate change. Over 14% of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activity come from livestock production, and an emerging body of evidence suggests factory farms have higher levels of emissions than smaller or grass-fed operations.
"We need to fundamentally overhaul the way we raise animals for food."
Factory farms cannot be regulated and they cannot be fixed. Even if they follow the letter of the law (and they don’t), even if they use best available technology for waste disposal (and they won’t), they still produce enormous volumes of waste, put the safety of our food at risk and harm animals, workers and communities. We need to fundamentally overhaul the way we raise animals for food. We cannot continue this failed experiment. It is time for a ban on factory farms. The health of our rural communities—and our planet—depends on it.