Editorial: State Must Permanently Deny Easterday Dairy Permit

The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) must deny a permit for the proposed Easterday Dairy to operate a 30,000-cow mega-dairy near the town of Boardman, Oregon.

Why deny the permit?

First, the Lower Umatilla Basin, the site of this proposed industrial operation, was designated a Groundwater Management Area (GWMA) in 1990 due to nitrate/nitrogen concentrations exceeding 7 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Nitrate concentrations in drinking water are linked with serious health concerns for infants and pregnant or nursing women, not to mention contributing to a variety of cancers and other health conditions.

Morrow County has declared an emergency due to nitrates in water.

In the more than 30 years since that designation, recent testing of drinking water from wells that draw from the groundwater shows the situation has grown even more dire. Even households that were fitted with reverse-osmosis filters designed to filter out nitrates were shown to have levels of the pollutant "between 29 parts per million to nearly 48 parts per million—up to nearly five times the federal safe limit" according to an article in the Oregon Capital Chronicle. 

In the same article, it quotes the technician who called with the test results from the six samples as asking, "No one is drinking this, right?"

Because of the extreme levels of nitrate pollution in the groundwater, mostly from agricultural sources, Morrow County has declared an emergency and the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering using its emergency authority to intervene in the region.


The technician who called with the test results from the six samples
of water asked, "No one is drinking this, right?"


Then there's the history of the specific site of the proposed dairy. Initially developed as the 30,000-cow Lost Valley Farm—which has been reported on extensively here—owner Greg te Velde began building even before he had state permits in hand. In 18 months of operation, the state issued more than 200 citations for environmental violations ranging from overflowing manure lagoons, cows forced to stand in their own filth and dead animals overflowing a dumpster. Te Velde himself was arrested in a prostitution sting and charged with felony meth possession. Lost Valley declared bankruptcy in 2018.

Cody Easterday.

The scion of the vast Easterday Farms agricultural empire in Washington State, Cody Easterday, bought the failed facility for $66.9 million in early 2019, promising to clean up the heavily polluted land and restore it to profitability. Renamed Easterday Dairy, it almost immediately ran into its own set of soap opera-worthy dramas.

Cody himself turned out to have a gambling problem, which led him to create a "ghost herd" of cattle to disguise his debts, eventually pleading guilty to defrauding Tyson Foods, Inc., and another company out of more than $244 million over a period of six years by charging them for the purchase and feeding of more than 200,000 cattle that existed only on paper.


Easterday Dairy intentionally applied almost three times the allowable amount of nitrogen fertilizer on the property during the 2021 crop season.


Those troubles exacerbated the issues with the dairy, with the state putting an indefinite "pause" on the permit even though the Easterday family replaced Cody's name on the permit with that of his 25-year-old son, Cole. Moreover, according to the Kennewick, Washington, Tri-City Herald, "despite a January 2021 warning about nitrate levels, the landowners say Easterday Dairy intentionally applied almost three times the allowable amount of nitrogen fertilizer on the property during the 2021 crop season."

Drought map of Oregon with mega-dairies (blue dots).

Then in July of this year, facing years of delay and with mounting financial issues and more violations even with no animals onsite, Easterday proceeded to sue the former owners of the property for breach of contract, asking for $14 million in damages or to be released from the purchase agreement, according to several news sources.

The issues with increasing nitrate pollution from decades of state mismanagement in the region, which is also experiencing increasing drought conditions due to climate change along with a drain on the at-risk aquifer from agricultural uses, should by itself condemn the permit. But the catastrophic damage at the site and the actions of the owners speak to the need for a permanent denial of another mega-dairy for the good of the environment, the people in the community, and the air, water and groundwater we all share.

Top photo from Stand Up to Factory Farms. Photo of Cody Easterday from Easterday's public Facebook page. Drought map from Food and Water Watch.

Petition Seeks to Prevent State from Permitting New Mega-Dairy

A coalition of community, small farms and environmental groups is collecting signatures on a petition demanding that Governor Kate Brown deny Easterday Dairy a permit to open a 30,000-cow mega-dairy on the site of the disastrous Lost Valley Farm just outside of Boardman, Oregon.

Pools of sewage and chemicals on property Easterday bought in 2019.

Their timing may be fortuitous, since last month the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) released a finding that the property was found to have elevated levels of nitrates in the soil, a dangerous pollutant known to cause methemologlobinemia, or “blue baby syndrome,” in infants, as well as the risk of elevated heart rate, nausea, headaches, abdominal cramps and an increased chance of cancer, especially gastric cancer, in adults.

So far the group Stand Up To Factory Farms has collected more than 1,400 signatures on the petition it plans to present to Governor Kate Brown tomorrow. (If you are interested in signing the petition, you can do so here.)

Cody Easterday's permit was put on "indefinite hold" by the ODA.

This is the second permit application the Easterday agricultural conglomerate has made to the ODA. The first application was withdrawn by Cody Easterday after the ODA put it on "indefinite hold" when Easterday pleaded guilty in federal district court to defrauding Tyson Foods, Inc., and another company out of more than $244 million over a period of six years by charging them for the purchase and feeding of more than 200,000 cattle that existed only on paper, a scheme dubbed "Cattlegate." Many of the other Easterday family holdings subsequently declared bankruptcy in court.

In July, a permit application naming Cody Easterday's 24-year-old son, Cole, as the applicant was filed with the ODA in a move widely seen as a desperate ploy to keep the property that the Easterday's bought for $66.7 million in 2019. An article in the Capital Press at the time said Easterday had plans to invest another $15 million in upgrades, including completion of a wastewater treatment system that was never finished, as well as bringing the farm into full environmental compliance.

According to a Stand Up To Factory Farms press release, “a broad swath of community, environmental, animal welfare and public health organizations have raised concerns given the Easterday family’s financial distress, the outsize impact mega-dairies have on drinking water quality, climate change, and the enormous quantities of water they use.”

The coalition notes that the mega-dairy, located on a federally designated Groundwater Management Area (GWMA), would use “20 million gallons of water per day in the midst of a historic mega-drought and generate 128 million gallons of manure-contaminated waste water in an area with dangerously high nitrate levels [already] in the community’s drinking water.” (See my article, "Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities" about the problems these industrial-scale factory farms present.)

Read more of my coverage of the Easterday Dairy story.

Top photo from Stand Up to Factory Farms.

Easterday Guilty Plea & Legal Concerns Put Mega-Dairy Permit on Hold Indefinitely

Big news broke yesterday about the Easterday Dairy application to restart a 30,000-cow operation on the site of the catastrophic Lost Valley Farm mega-dairy in Boardman, Oregon.

According to a press release from Stand Up to Factory Farms, a coalition of consumer and environmental public interest groups, the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) announced that the agencies had temporarily suspended work on the pending Easterday Dairy permit because of legal concerns.

Two of Easterday largest businesses declared bankruptcy in February.

The "pause" of the permit was announced by the ODA's CAFO program manager, Wym Matthews, at a meeting of the state CAFO Advisory Committee, which provides feedback to the department about its Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) Program.

Cody Easterday, whose name and signature appear on the ODA permit application, pleaded guilty on March 31st in federal district court to defrauding Tyson Foods, Inc., and another company out of more than $244 million over a period of six years by charging them for the purchase and feeding of more than 200,000 cattle that existed only on paper.

Cody Easterday's year-over-year losses in the futures market.

In a scheme that has been dubbed "Cattlegate," Easterday pleaded guilty to wire fraud—making use of electronic media including telephone or fax machine, email or social media, or SMS and text messaging—which he allegedly committed in order to cover up his massive losses on the futures market. His trading activities are the basis for another pending federal matter against Easterday that is being brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The Easterday family, which Cody has headed since the death last fall of his father, Gale, has extensive holdings in Washington and Idaho. Two of the family's largest companies, Easterday Farms and Easterday Ranches, have declared bankruptcy in the wake of the scandal.

Cody Easterday's signature on ODA permit application.

In the advisory committee hearing, Matthews said that the bankruptcies of these two major parts of the family's businesses appear to touch on parts of the proposed Oregon facility and are a major reason for pausing the permit process. "The Oregon property is in question at this time," he said. "The applicant status and ownership status [of the dairy] is potentially in question, which would cause us to pause."

In an e-mail response to my questions, ODA communications director Andrea Cantu-Schomus said that while the permit application itself is still active and pending, the Oregon Department of Justice continues to gather information about this rapidly evolving situation.

“It’s a relief to hear that ODA and DEQ have stopped work on the permitting process for Easterday Dairy,” according Stand Up to Factory Farms coalition organizer Emma Newton. “Easterday’s failure to disclose fraud and major financial difficulties during the application process gives ODA and DEQ ample grounds for the permit’s denial." Calling the pause on the permit a first step, Newton calls on the agencies to "deny the Easterday Dairy permit once and for all.”


Read more about the Easterday scandal and the subsequent bankruptcies of Easterday Ranches and Easterday Farms. Get more information on the Lost Valley Farm debacle and the dangers that mega-dairies present to Oregon's rural communities, the health of its citizens, and the state's climate, environment, air and water.

Easterday Farms, Owner of Mega-Dairy Site, Files for Bankruptcy

In the growing scandal around the scheme that has been dubbed "Cattlegate," Easterday Farms is now tangled up in the bankruptcy of its sister company, Easterday Ranches, a giant ranching and feedlot operation in Washington state that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection earlier this month. The filing was made after a meatpacker sued Easterday Ranches for defrauding it of $225 million for 200,000 nonexistant cattle.

Cody Easterday.

Cody Easterday, president and CEO of Easterday Ranches, one of the largest agricultural operations in Washington State, is implicated in a complex modern-day cattle rustling operation involving 200,000 "ghost cattle" that apparently existed only on paper. Easterday was contracted to buy and feed the bovines for Tyson Fresh Meats, a division of Tyson Foods, then deliver them to slaughter at Tyson's processing facility, invoicing Tyson for their purchase and upkeep. The problem was that he never bought the cattle, but still invoiced Tyson for them, allegedly intending to use the money to cover losses he'd incurred in the commodities trading market.

An article in the Spokane (WA) Spokesman-Review said that on Monday (2/8), Easterday Farms filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy seeking protection from its creditors. It said "according to court records made public Tuesday (2/9), Easterday Farms has and continues to sell feed to the ranch side of the business that has been caught up in an alleged scandal of missing cattle owned by Wallula-based Tyson Fresh Meats Inc., a subsidiary Tyson Foods Inc."

The Easterday family. Cody (far left) and his father, Gale (center), ran Easterday Ranches.

In addition to being the president and CEO of Easterday Ranches, Cody Easterday is also the head of Easterday Farms—one of the many sprawling and intertwined holdings of the Easterday family that includes private planes, hangars, giant storage and packing sheds, restaurants and million-dollar homes. On its 18,000 acres in the Columbia Basin, Easterday Farms grows onions, potatoes and other produce, plus feed and grain for the cattle in the family's feedlot operations.

Easterday Farms is also the owner of the former Lost Valley Farm, the 30,000-cow mega-dairy that failed catastrophically in 2018 when the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) shut it down after issuing more than 200 violations of its permit in two years of operation. It cost millions to clean up the "environmental mess"—including 30 million gallons of manure and wastewater—left by the previous owner.

At the time of the sale in 2019, Easterday was required to reapply to the state ODA for a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit to operate a 28,300-cow mega-dairy on the site, which it did under the name "Easterday Farms Dairy." While the ODA issued a "letter of satisfaction" at the end of 2019 for the cleanup at Lost Valley Farm, according to sources the Easterdays will still need to invest $15 million to bring the facility into full environmental compliance.

Cleanup from the failed Lost Valley Farm ran into the tens of millions.

Cole Easterday, a co-owner of the new dairy business, said, "Though the situation with Easterday Ranches and Easterday Farms is unfortunate, Easterday Dairy LLC’s commitment to our current CAFO permit and our permit application is unchanged,” according to an article in the Capital Press.

The article quotes Stephanie Page, natural resources program director for the ODA, as saying that the lawsuit and bankruptcy potentially add another layer of complications. "I think we’ve all been on the same page in terms of not wanting to jump to conclusions," Page said. "We’re just continuing to evaluate the info we’ve gotten about the business structures, and how they’re separate but also making sure we understand how they’re interrelated."

In an e-mail, ODA communications director Andrea Cantu-Schomus said that the ODA and the state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are "required by Oregon law and EPA CAFO rules to consider all applications and issue permits for facilities that meet all legal requirements."

When asked whether the bankruptcy filings may impact the viability of Easterday's operations at the dairy, she said that the agencies are exploring Oregon Revised Statutes* and federal rules for CAFOs to determine whether they have the authority "to verify the ongoing financial status of an applicant and or operator" in the permit review. She termed the lawsuits and bankruptcy filings "a rapidly evolving situation" and that "the state will proceed with integrity and transparency."

Though this is hardly the ODA's first rodeo when it comes to issuing permits to large industrial facilities that go on to create problems.

“We know from experience that ODA and DEQ are likely to claim they don’t have the authority to deny Easterday’s permit,” said Tarah Heinzen, Food & Water Watch Legal Director. “Recent events underscore that this is just not true. They can deny a permit to any applicant who hasn’t disclosed all relevant facts or who has misrepresented any facts in their application. Easterday Ranches’ and Easterday Farms’ significant financial distress surely qualifies.” 

Cantu-Schomus later clarified in an e-mail when asked about whether the agencies are able to put a permit application on hold while determining its status that "there is no time requirement for ODA or DEQ to complete CAFO Permit development and start the public notice period."

Adding pressure to the ODA's permit process, a coalition called Stand Up to Factory Farms is pushing a bill in the state legislature for a mega-dairy moratorium in order to institute regulations on industrial factory farm dairies to protect Oregon's environment, air and water and the health of its communities.

In light of the Easterday scandal, the coalition issued a press release saying that "denying the [Easterday Farms] permit is not enough. It’s been clear for years now that these facilities housing tens of thousands of cows and producing waste on par with many cities are mega-polluters regardless of the operators. It is time for Oregon legislators to enact a mega-dairy moratorium to protect our state from irresponsible mega-dairy operators and prevent harms from massive industrial dairies until regulations are in place to protect Oregonians."

Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety, responded in an e-mail to a question about the Easterdays' various businesses, "While the intricacies of the various Easterday entities may not yet be clear, including to state regulators, one thing is clear: Cody Easterday and the Easterday family are the principals and the ones accused of massive fraud in Washington.

"It is beyond the pale that ODA and DEQ would still consider permitting the Easterdays to operate such a massive new source of nitrates and methane in Oregon," van Saun wrote.

Read more about the Easterday Ranches scandal.

ORS 468B.217 and OAR 340-045

Photos from Easterday's public Facebook page.

Modern Cattle Rustling Scheme May Affect Easterday Mega-Dairy Permit

It has the drama and intrigue of a Hollywood blockbuster—part western, part heist movie—centered on a middle-aged businessman up to his eyeballs in debt desperately trying to dig his way out scheming to rip off a giant national meat conglomerate, contracting to deliver thousands of cattle that only exist on paper.

Thing is? This is no movie, it's real.

Cody Easterday

Even weirder, it involves the catastrophic Boardman-area mega-dairy known as Lost Valley Farm—infamous for its drug-addled, prostitute-frequenting former owner, Greg te Velde, who racked up more than 200 violations of its operating permit in two years—and the scion of a multi-generational Northwest ranching family who swooped in and bought the failed dairy, proposing to infuse millions of dollars to bring it back to profitability.

The panicky businessman is Cody Easterday, president and CEO of Easterday Ranches, one of the largest agricultural operations in Washington State, who is also the main player in the Lost Valley Farm purchase. A tragic side note: His father, wealthy cattleman Gale Easterday, died in December when the car he was driving ran head-on into an 18-wheeler hauling Easterday potatoes.

Reporter Anna King of the NW News Network broke the story that Cody had lost more than $200 million in the commodities market and had concocted the  scheme in a bid to cover his losses. “As his commodities trading losses escalated, Mr. [Cody] Easterday explained that he began submitting fake feeding invoices as well as the fake cattle invoices,” Jason Wenglarski, vice president of internal governance for Tyson Foods, is quoted as saying.

Easterday feedlot in Eastern Washington.

The story describes Easterday's scheme to contract with Tyson "to buy fake young cattle, then charge Tyson for them. Then Easterday Ranches would fictitiously feed the cattle and bill Tyson for that feed. Next, the cattle operator would deliver some actual cattle—but not all—to Tyson when the on-paper cattle would be market ready."

Interestingly, Tyson didn't discover the discrepancy for several years, according to the Tri-City Herald, which said Easterday had previously worked with Tyson for many years when, in 2017, Easterday signed an agreement to buy young cattle and feed them until they were ready for market, submitting invoices and being reimbursed for his costs.

According to Tyson's lawsuit against Easterday, the scheme came to Tyson's attention in late November of 2020 when it discovered "errors" in its inventory records and met with Easterday. “Its investigation, including the admissions of Defendant’s President Cody Easterday, showed there were over 200,000 head of cattle that Defendant reported to be in inventory, but which did not exist.”

Cows were left standing in excrement at Lost Valley Farm.

As for Easterday's pending permit application with the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) to operate a 30,000-cow mega-dairy on the former site of Lost Valley Farm? At this point it's unaffected by the recent revelations.

According to ODA communications director Andrea Cantu-Schomus, "the State is continuing the process of reviewing the Easterday Farms Dairy LLC application and drafting a permit." She added that when the draft permit is ready, the ODA and Department of Environmental Quality will release it and any supporting materials to the public prior to holding public hearings. Based on that, the agencies "will review and make possible changes" before making a final decision on the permit.

Stand Up To Factory Farms, the coalition of community, farm, environmental and social justice organizations behind the mega-dairy moratorium before this year's legislature, issued a press release on the Easterday scandal, saying "these serious allegations underscore that Lost Valley Farm’s owner, Greg te Velde, is not the only 'bad actor' among mega-dairies, as the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the dairy lobby would have us believe. It is vital that the Oregon Department of Agriculture immediately deny the Easterday permit application for a new mega-dairy in Eastern Oregon."

Until then—or until the movie comes out—I'll keep you posted on developments and/or shenanigans.

Top photo: File photo of cattle feedlot.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Take Action on Mega-Dairies, Climate Change

It's the midpoint of the interim session of the Oregon legislature, and it's time to let your legislator know what you think. Outlined below are several issues and suggested ways to let your legislators know your opinions.

Require large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to apply for approval from Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) and Dept. of Environmental Quality (SB 1513): On the heels of the catastrophic failure of the 30,000-cow Lost Valley Farm and the ongoing issues with the groundwater in the Boardman area, it was hoped that this bill would establish new regulations protecting Oregon's air, water and rural communities from these huge factory farms.

Unfortunately, according to Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), this bill is not adequate to address the problems raised by these extractive facilities. "The work group bill (similar to the bill proposed last session) does not go nearly far enough, and chipping away at the edges will not protect our community health and welfare from mega-dairies, including the new mega-dairy proposed at the infamous Lost Valley site," she said. "Further, we are concerned that the climate legislation again both exempts mega-dairies from controlling their methane emissions and creates a perverse incentive for people (especially from states with stronger controls) to set up or expand mega-dairies here, and to then sell dirty manure gas as 'renewable biogas' into the market."

Please consider contacting your Senator about this issue (suggested text below).

Dear Sen. [name]:

I oppose SB 1513 and ask that you vote no on passing this bill out of committee. This weak proposal simply doesn’t go far enough in addressing the significant negative impacts that mega-dairies have on our state. Passing it would simply sweep under the rug the state's systemic failures to protect our environment and communities from this industry.

Mega-dairies harm our air and water, small family farmers, animal welfare, and Oregon's special places. Nowhere has that been clearer than at Lost Valley Farm, but it isn't just Lost Valley. Mega-dairies, including the proposed Easterday Farms that regulators are currently considering, have no place in Oregon. 

SB 1513 is a weak half-measure that won't adequately address the mega-dairy crisis. We are past the point of minor regulatory tweaks. We need a moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies.

Thank you,

[your name]


Ban use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos (HB 4109): In a vote of 32-24, a bill to totally phase out the insecticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon by 2022 passed the House today over the objections of farm groups that argued the chemical is still necessary, according an article in the Capital Press. It now goes to the state Senate for approval, so it's time to contact your Senator and voice your opinion (suggested text below).

Dear Sen. [name],

I am writing to urge you to support HB 4109 to ban the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon. In some agricultural communities current exposure levels to this developmental neurotoxin by children ages one to two exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own allowable threshold by a staggering 140 times.

Even at low levels of exposure, chlorpyrifos has been shown to alter brain functions and impair the learning ability of children into adulthood and is correlated with a decrease in psychomotor and mental development in three-year-olds. At high levels of childhood exposure, chlorpyrifos has been found to cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, slow cognitive development, a significant reduction in IQ scores and a host of other neurodevelopment problems. Children who live near farm fields experience the highest risks and impacts. In addition to its danger to people, chlorpyrifos has also been shown to harm beneficial insects, fish and birds.

Oregon should not allow industrial interests to endanger the health and well-being of its children or our environment. Please vote for HB 4109 to ban this dangerous chemical.

Sincerely,

[your name]


Climate cap and trade (SB 1530): Also known as Legislative Concept 19,  according to an article from Oregon Public Broadcasting, "the bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each ton of gas they emit, and create an overall cap for emissions allowed in the state. That cap would lower over time, in theory ensuring Oregon meets stringent conservation targets in 2035 and 2050. Entities required to obtain permits could trade them with one another."

Unfortunately, this bill does not put any controls on emissions from mega-dairies, but would allow them to profit from selling methane capture credits, could perversely incentivize more of these polluting operations to flock to Oregon or expand here. SB 1530’s failure to address these significant emissions thereby threatens to lead to an increase in methane emissions, in direct conflict with the attempts by Oregon legislators to curb climate change.

Add your voice to the 7 out of 10 Oregonians who support climate action in Oregon, and insist that emissions from factory farms are included in the caps (suggested text below).

Dear Sen. [name],

I believe that climate change is the greatest environmental challenge of our time, created and exacerbated by our ongoing actions and inactions. In the face of unforgivable federal inaction, I thank you for your attempts to take action here in Oregon to address our own contributions to climate change and to prepare Oregonians for the future.

However, I am concerned that SB 1530 does not put any controls on emissions from mega-dairies, but would allow them to profit from selling methane capture credits and could perversely incentivize more of these polluting operations to flock to Oregon or expand here. SB 1530’s failure to address these significant emissions threatens to lead to an increase in methane emissions, in direct conflict with the attempts by Oregon legislators to curb climate change.

Oregonians deserve better than dirty mega-dairies. Again, while we applaud your efforts to address climate change, we urge you not to make the problem worse by ignoring the biggest source of methane in our state. Any effective climate legislation simply must address this significant and expanding source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon.

Thank you,

[your name]

Your Food, Your Legislature: CAFO Regulations, Pesticide Ban Top Agenda

When it gavels into session on Monday, February 3rd, the 2020 interim session of the Oregon legislature is set to address a stunning, some would say impossible, roster of work in the 35 days it is legally allowed. From climate change to gun control to spending $1 billion in revenue—not to mention the threat of Republicans walking out to kill bills they're not happy with as they did last session—it's bound to be a bumpy ride.

Several bills affecting our food system are in play, including:

New regulations on confined feeding operations (CAFOs) with more than 2,500 animals (SB 1513): On the heels of the catastrophic failure of Lost Valley Farm, a 30,000-cow mega-dairy, this bill seeks to establish more stringent regulations of new industrial animal operations. Specifically, it requires the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) or the state Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to confirm the facility has an adequate water supply to operate and that it will need to obtain a separate permit for spreading animal waste on the land surrounding the facility.

According to Amy van Saun, a senior attorney for the Center for Food Safety (CFS), this bill is not adequate to address the problems raised by Lost Valley Farm. "The work group bill (similar to the bill proposed last session) does not go nearly far enough, and chipping away at the edges will not protect our community health and welfare from mega-dairies, including the new mega-dairy proposed at the infamous Lost Valley site. Further, we are concerned that the climate legislation again both exempts mega-dairies from controlling their methane emissions and creates a perverse incentive for people (especially from states with stronger controls) to set up or expand mega-dairies here, and to then sell dirty manure gas as 'renewable biogas' into the market," she said.

Study groundwater contamination and implement improvement plan for Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area (SB 1562):  Some drinking water wells in the federally designated Groundwater Management Area (GWMA) in Umatilla and Morrow Counties are polluted with nitrates over the federal maximum allowable limits. Blamed on agricultural effluents, the area is the site of the state's two largest factory farm dairies—the 70,000-cow Threemile Canyon Farms and the not-yet-permitted 30,000-cow Easterday Farms Dairy, the original location of the now-shuttered Lost Valley Farm.

According to a study by Colorado State University, exposure to high levels of nitrates in water can cause "blue baby syndrome," (methemoglobinemia) a condition found especially in infants under six months. This results in a reduced oxygen supply to vital tissues such as the brain and can result in brain damage and death. Pregnant women, and even ruminant animals like cattle and sheep, are all susceptible to nitrite-induced methemoglobinemia. Nitrate contamination also has well-documented adverse health risks including increasing the risk of a variety of cancers, thyroid disease, and reproductive and gestational problems.

Additional pressure for legislators to act comes from the environmental watchdog Food and Water Watch, which is requesting the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) take emergency action to address groundwater contamination in Morrow and Umatilla Counties. “Oregon officials have effectively abandoned their responsibility to protect people by doubling down on their failed approach to preventing groundwater contamination, which continues to put control in the hands of the very polluters that have created a pervasive threat to human health,” said Tarah Heinzen, Senior Staff Attorney with Food and Water Watch. “The Safe Drinking Water Act fully empowers EPA to take emergency action to protect human health in the Lower Umatilla Basin Groundwater Management Area in these circumstances," she continued, "and our petition demonstrates that it must.”

Ban aerial spraying of pesticide chlorpyrifos (HB 4109): In some agricultural communities current exposure levels to this developmental neurotoxin by children ages one to two exceed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own allowable threshold by a staggering 140 times. 

Even at low levels of exposure by women during pregnancy, chlorpyrifos has been shown to alter brain functions and impair the learning ability of children into adulthood. Researchers at Columbia University have demonstrated that the presence of chlorpyrifos in the umbilical cord of developing fetuses is correlated with a decrease in psychomotor and mental development in three-year-olds. At high levels of childhood exposure, chlorpyrifos has been found to cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, slow cognitive development, a significant reduction in IQ scores and a host of other neurodevelopment problems. Children who live near farm fields experience the highest risks and impacts. A University of California Davis study found that women who resided within a mile of farms where chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticides were applied had a 60 percent higher chance of giving birth to children with autism spectrum disorder.

Attorney van Saun said that CFS is "supporting a renewed push to phase out the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos from use in Oregon, following similar phase outs in Hawaii, California, and soon to be New York and the EU." She pointed out that a bill to phase out chlorpyrifos did not pass last session, "but the danger is still there for our kids and farm workers, so CFS is supporting efforts lead by Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) to make this happen this session."  The hope is that the Oregon Legislature, through this bill, declares that the children of Oregon are more important than corporations that profit from exposing them (and the citizens of the state) to toxic chemicals.

Climate cap and trade (SB 1530): Also known as Legislative Concept 19, this bill follows the overall framework of last session's HB 2020, which failed to pass due to conflicts between urban and rural factions—some would say industrial and environmental concerns—in the legislature. According to an article from Oregon Public Broadcasting, "the bill would force big greenhouse gas emitters to obtain credits for each ton of gas they emit, and create an overall cap for emissions allowed in the state. That cap would lower over time, in theory ensuring Oregon meets stringent conservation targets in 2035 and 2050. Entities required to obtain permits could trade them with one another."

Additions appease critics of the more stringent requirements of the previous bill, including protections for rural Oregonians from rising fuel prices; new exemptions and subsidies for industrial companies; rebates for big industrial gas users and a grandfather clause for existing wholesale contracts, giving some large companies (hint: Boeing) a break until their existing contract expires and they can structure a greener one.

Establishment of an Oregon Hemp Commission (HB 4051, HB 4072, SB 1561): House Bill 4051 creates a new state commodity commission; HB 4072 directs the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) to administer an Oregon Hemp State Program for studying growth, cultivation and marketing of hemp; SB 1561 deals with the commercial production and sale of hemp—changed from "industrial hemp"—as well as changing definitions of marijuana offenses and regulations regarding medical marijuana.

Stay tuned for future installments as the legislative sausage is made!

Public Interest Group Calls for Boycott of Tillamook Products

The Center for Food Safety (CFS), a public interest and environmental advocacy organization, called on Wednesday (9/25) for a consumer boycott of Tillamook dairy products "until the dairy giant commits to sourcing the milk in its products from farms which use the sustainable, humane practices that the company's advertising suggests."

Cows in a typical industrial dairy.

This follows on the heels of a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of four Oregon consumers alleging that Tillamook's advertising misleads the public into believing its milk comes from cows munching on coastal pastures, when in truth the vast majority of the milk used in its famous cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter comes from cows fed on grain and living on concrete and dirt feedlots in industrial conditions in Eastern Oregon.

Referring to Tillamook's advertising as "greenwashing," the CFS press release quotes senior attorney Amy van Saun as saying that "Big Food companies like Tillamook are exploiting consumer preference for small, local, and sustainable [food] by pretending that their practices support health, the environment, and a local living economy, when the reality is that the milk they're buying is dirty. Community food system advocates have fought too hard to protect the livelihoods of small family farmers, animals and our planet to see companies greenwashing their unsustainable products, especially a brand so beloved by Oregonians."

One of the ads in Tillamook's campaign.

The lawsuit accuses Tillamook, which projects $1 billion in sales in 2020, of violating multiple Oregon consumer protection laws. These laws state that, essentially, "consumers are not required to spend hours doing online research in order to correct deception that is being put forth by a marketer’s pervasive marketing campaign, ” according to an article quoting Kelsey Eberly, a lawyer with the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDS), which filed the class action lawsuit.

CFS has mounted an online petition titled "Be the Truth Tillamook: Say Goodbye to Mega-Dairies!" urging loyal consumers to tell Tillamook that "we have long believed your advertising about the source of your milk: family farms in Tillamook county, raising cows humanely on pasture, letting them roam free on rolling green hills."

Tillamook has always touted its small family farmers.

The petition goes on to say "Tillamook claims to be the answer to Big Food and 'Dairy Done Right,' but in reality, the majority of the milk that goes into Tillamook dairy products, including the signature cheddar cheeses, comes from the nation’s largest industrial confinement mega-dairy in Eastern Oregon—quintessential 'Big Food.'" CFS is launching a concurrent social media campaign using the hashtags #BeTheTruthTillamook and #DumpDirtyDairy.

As of the time of this posting, the Tillamook County Creamery Association, the co-op behind the Tillamook brand, has not issued a comment on the boycott, nor has Threemile Canyon Farms, the mega-dairy that provides the bulk of its milk. Easterday Farms, a new 30,000-cow mega-dairy—it bought the failed Lost Valley Farm in Boardman—has applied for a permit to supply milk but is not yet in operation.


For more information on mega-dairies in Oregon, read my article, Big Milk Brings Big Issues for Local Communities as well as my post on Tillamook's connection to these factory farms, Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese. Read my full reporting on Threemile Canyon, Lost Valley and Easterday mega-dairies.

Tillamook's Milk Comes from Cows on Concrete, Not Pasture, Lawsuit Claims

A group of consumers has filed suit against the Tillamook County Creamery Association (TCCA) claiming its advertising misleads the public into believing its milk comes from cows munching on coastal pastures, when in truth most of the milk used in its famous cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter comes from cows fed on grain, living on concrete and dirt feedlots in factory farms in Eastern Oregon.

Photo used in Tillamook's promotional materials.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), a legal advocacy organization for animals that filed the suit on behalf of the Oregon consumers, the TCCA's "heavily advertised 'co-op' of small family farms in Tillamook County represent just a tiny proportion of the company’s production. In reality, Tillamook sources up to 80 percent of its milk from the largest dairy feedlot in the United States. Located in the desert of eastern Oregon, the facility that provides the majority of Tillamook’s milk keeps 32,000 dairy cows (and more than 70,000 cows total) in inhumane, industrialized conditions. Tillamook sells dairy products nationwide under the 'Tillamook' brand name, and is poised to do over $1 billion in sales in 2020."

Part of Tillamook's "Dairy Done Right' campaign.

The TCCA's advertising encourages shoppers to "Say Goodbye to Big Food," depicting cows grazing on pristine coastal grass under sunny blue skies, when in reality, the lawsuit claims, its industrial practices are the epitome of "Big Food." The lawsuit, filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, says that "consumers increasingly seek out and are willing to pay more for products that they perceive as being locally and ethically sourced—better for the environment [and] more humane. Tillamook has projected such ethical sourcing as its company ethos, deliberately crafting its marketing messages to attract these consumers, who believe they are getting such responsibly sourced products when they buy Tillamook cheese and ice cream. As the company says, 'Tillamook cheddar cheese is made with four ingredients, patience, and old-fashioned farmer values in Tillamook, Oregon."

Threemile Canyon Farms is so large it can be seen from space.

The industrial factory farm where Tillamook sources its milk, Threemile Canyon Farms, covers 93,000 acres in Boardman, Oregon, and is "so large it's visible from space" according to the lawsuit. Unlike the rich coastal pastures shown in the advertising, Boardman is a hot, dry climate classified as steppe or semi-arid, the lawsuit reads, describing the area as “flat, arid and often swelteringly hot—nothing like Tillamook County." (Read more about the problems caused by mega-dairies in my story, Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities.)

Cow stands in its own manure at now-shuttered Lost Valley Farm.

Until recently Tillamook also bought milk from Lost Valley Farm, another Boardman-area mega-dairy permitted for up to 30,000 cows that racked up more than 200 environmental violations in its first year-and-a-half of operation and has since been shut down and sold. (Read my coverage here.) "Industrial mega-dairies are also major polluters, generating huge quantities of waste that is disposed of⁠—virtually untreated⁠—on land where it can contaminate rivers, streams, and groundwater and harm wildlife.

Manure runs into open lagoons at Threemile Canyon Farms.

"The noxious air emissions these facilities produce can threaten public health, contribute to climate change, and decrease visibility in special places like the Columbia Gorge," according to a statement from a coalition of seven consumer, environmental and small farm advocates that has been working to establish more stringent regulations of these industrial facilities. [Oregon has extremely lax regulatory oversight of these factory farms.] Tillamook’s increasing reliance on industrial mega-dairies to ramp up production further contributes to overproduction, which lowers prices for family farmers and contributes to Oregon’s devastating decline in family dairies."

Exhibits at Tillamook depict cows on pasture.

Tillamook's response, typical of corporations under fire, attacks the credibility of the plaintiffs rather than addressing the issues raised, claiming the ALDF "is anti-dairy and actively advocates for people to cut all dairy products from their diets." It further stated that "Tillamook takes great pride in being a farmer-owned and farmer-led co-op, and we only work with business partners that share our values and live up to our extremely high standards."

The lawsuit, on the other hand, states that Tillamook intentionally contributes to confusion "as to the source of its dairy products by extensive advertising that the products are sourced from humane, pasture-based farms producing 'real food.' Consumers who believe they are buying products from small, high-welfare, pasture-based dairies in Tillamook County are instead unwittingly purchasing cheese, butter, ice cream, and yogurt made from milk from the largest industrial dairy in the country—that confines tens of thousands of cows on concrete in the desert of Eastern Oregon." It seeks "to hold Tillamook accountable for its uniform and pervasive claims falsely representing the company's products as coming exclusively from small-scale, pasture-based farms in Tillamook County that provide individualized care for cows, when this could not be further from the truth."


For more information on mega-dairies in Oregon, read my article, Big Milk Brings Big Issues for Local Communities as well as my post on Tillamook's connection to these factory farms, Why I'm Quitting Tillamook Cheese. You can also read my full reporting on Threemile Canyon and Lost Valley mega-dairies.

Top photo of cows in an industrial CAFO courtesy Center for Food Safety.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Time to Take Action!

With just a few weeks left in the 2019 session of the Legislature, it's time to get in gear and let your legislators know where you stand. Type your address into the box at the top of the directory and write or e-mail your own letter (addresses are included in the listings for each legislator), or copy and paste the sample letter below each bill. If you want to take an extra step, click on the "Current Committee" in the listings under the explanation and send a copy to each member of the committee.

HB 2619 would ban the use of the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos, a dangerous neurotoxin that affects brain development in young children. Here's a sample letter:

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge you to support HB 2619 and ban the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos in Oregon so that children living in our state may have a permanent reprieve from exposure to the highly toxic pesticide.

Current exposure levels to this developmental neurotoxicant, by children ages one to two, exceed the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own allowable threshold by a staggering 140 times.

Even at low levels of exposure by women during pregnancy, chlorpyrifos has been shown to alter brain functions and impair the learning ability of children into adulthood. Researchers at Columbia University have demonstrated that the presence of chlorpyrifos in the umbilical cord of developing fetuses is correlated with a decrease in psychomotor and mental development in three-year-olds. At high levels of childhood exposure, chlorpyrifos has been found to cause attention deficit, hyperactivity, slow cognitive development, a significant reduction in IQ scores and a host of other neurodevelopment problems. Children who live near farm fields experience the highest risks and impacts. A University of California Davis study found that women who resided within a mile of farms where chlorpyrifos and other organophosphate pesticides were applied had a 60 percent higher chance of giving birth to children with autism spectrum disorder.

Two states, Hawaii and California, have already passed bills banning this dangerous pesticide. I can only hope that the Oregon Legislature follows suit and declares our children are more important than corporations that profit from exposing them (and us) to toxic chemicals.

Thank you,

[your name]

[address]

* * *

HB 2882 protects farmers by making the patent-holders of genetically engineered crops financially liable when their products contaminate neighboring farmers' fields. Sample text:

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge your support for HB 2882, which would protect Oregon farmers by holding the patent-holders of genetically engineered crops financially accountable when their products cause economic harm to farmers who experience unwanted contamination.

Contamination from genetically engineered crops can make organic and conventional crops unable to be sold. When these genetically engineered crops escape their fields, the contamination can cost farmers not just the value of that season's crops, but can can take years to eradicate, with the potential that the farmer would be deprived of a livelihood.

Oregon's family farmers and the integrity of our food supply should not be at the mercy of corporate agribusiness giants.

Thank you,

[your name]

[address]


SB 727 supports the Double Up Food Bucks program that gives food assistance (SNAP) recipients assistance in purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program. Note that very SNAP dollar spent at farmers market can generate $1.79 in local economic activity!

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge your support for SB 727, which supports the expansion of Double Up Food Bucks Oregon, a SNAP incentive program with a proven record of success.

For every dollar spent on SNAP-eligible foods at participating farmers markets, farm share programs, and grocery stores across the state, shoppers will receive a dollar to spend on Oregon-grown fruits and vegetables. State appropriations have successfully funded similar statewide SNAP incentive programs in CA, MA, MI, MN and NM. 

Passage of this bill would:

  • Allow 250,0000 low-income Oregon families will be able to expand their buying power and consume more fruits and vegetables 
  • Connect family farmers with new customers, giving them a financial boost 
  • Encourage our local economies will grow: every SNAP dollar spent at farmers market can generate $1.79 in local economic activity 
  • Enable all farmers markets in Oregon to accept SNAP, by providing technical assistance: currently 25% of Oregon’s farmers markets are not currently accepting SNAP
  • Enable all farmers markets in Oregon to offer SNAP matching programs: currently they exist at only 60 of Oregon’s 120 farmers markets. This leaves many rural markets without any SNAP matching program. 
  • Leverage future federal, other public and private matching dollars to ensure the long-term sustainability of the program.

Voting for this bill helps Oregonians in need to increase their access to fresh, local food, but it will also support family farmers and boost our economy.

Thank you,

[your name]

[your address]

* * *

HB 2020, the Clean Energy Jobs bill, would cap greenhouse gas emissions from most large industrial sources—those that emit more than 25,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) per year—and effectively put a price on carbon. Currently large industrial farms are excluded from this cap, though one of the largest emitters of ammonia gas in the country is Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman.

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge that HB 2020, the Clean Energy Jobs bill, include large industrial farms in its cap on greenhouse gases.

Climate change is a growing threat to Oregon agriculture. From extreme, unpredictable weather and drought, to declining water supplies, our rural communities, farms, and ranches are experiencing dramatic changes to the climate. While we need to stabilize the climate by reducing industrial and other large sources of greenhouse gas emissions, we also need to invest in climate-friendly agricultural practices. Oregon needs to offer a framework for Oregon’s farmers and ranchers to be a part of the solution by providing grants to engage in climate-friendly agricultural practices.

Under HB 2020, emissions from agriculture are generally exempted from the cap on emissions, even for individual large sources that exceed 25,000 metric tons per year in CO2 equivalent like mega-dairies and feedlots with more than approximately 10,000 cows. Because they are exempt from the cap, these very large operations may also qualify for "offset" funding under the bill, which are for emissions reduction projects that most smaller farms are unlikely to qualify for.

I am requesting that:

  • A minimum of 20% of the Climate Investment Fund allocated for activities on natural and working lands.
  • Applying the cap on emissions to large agricultural sources that exceed 25,000 metric tons CO2 equivalent emissions per year (for example, mega-dairies or large feedlots with at least 10,000 cows).
  • The creation of a Healthy Soils Program and an Alternative Manure Management Program like those in California which have generated millions of dollars in grants for farmers to engage in climate friendly practices.
  • Sustainable agriculture or small farm representation on the Climate Investment Fund advisory committee.

Thank you,

[your name]

[your address]