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.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Hits and Misses Tallied for Oregon's Food System

The Oregon Legislature adjourned "sine die"—which translates as "without a day," i.e. with no appointed date for resumption—on June 26, after a session marked by the usual rancor between the GOP minority (which staged a virtual "walkout" over objections to Governor Brown's COVID restrictions, the third year in a row for that maneuver) and the Democratic majority. Despite that and the fact that the session was conducted online due to the pandemic, there was some progress on strengthening our food system. Below is a summary of the hits and misses of the most important bills affecting our local food system:

Hits

Oregon supports more small meat processors.

Grant program to increase small-scale meat processing capacity (HB2785): The grant fund was allotted $2 million, plus an additional $300,000 for OSU’s Clark Meat Science Center. According to a report from Friends of Family Farmers' Amy Wong, "This long-overdue investment should be considered a major milestone for small farmers and ranchers who have pushed for expanded processing for decades." What this program means for you is that, in the future, more locally grown, sustainably produced meat from small Oregon farmers should be coming to your table.

Bovine Manure Tax Credit (HB 2451 and SB 151): This measure died in committee. It would have continued funding tax credits for factory farms that use methane digesters to product natural gas. The vast majority of these credits have gone to Threemile Canyon Farms, the 70,000-cow mega-dairy supplying most of the milk for Tillamook cheese products, which is owned by an out-of-state corporation. It's a big step forward that our legislature rejected a highly greenwashed process that maintains investment in fossil fuel infrastructure, one that also props up a factory farm system that harms small farmers, rural communities and our environment, not to mention the animals it exploits.

More fresh produce for Oregonians on food assistance.

Double Up Food Bucks (HB 2292 and SB 555): The Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program assists recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program. This important program was funded at the $4 million level—a big jump from the initial $1.5 million funding level in 2019. Nearly one in four Oregonians experienced hunger during the pandemic and this program is a triple win for eaters, farmers, and local communities.

Farm to School Grant Program (part of the Education Dept. budget): The Oregon Farm to School Grant Program, which was in danger of being eliminated altogether, was awarded $10.2 million, maintaining its current level of funding.

Misses

Oregon Organic Action Plan (SB 404): This bill would have increased funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products. Assurances were made to advocates that it would be included in the final budget reconciliation bill, but at the last minute it was dropped from the bill.

Bill to pause permits for dairy CAFOs dies in committee.

Moratorium on permits for industrial dairies (SB 583): Sadly, as posted in the mid-session report, this bill that would have allowed a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies died in committee. Lobbying by powerful industrial agriculture interests have once again prevented the state from enacting reasonable protections of Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare.


Thanks to Amy Wong, Policy Director for Friends of Family Farmers, for her help in compiling this report.

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.

Your Food, Your Legislature: Mid-Session Report, and How You Can Help

The Oregon Legislature is at its midpoint, where bills have either been scheduled for a public hearing and work session and are moving forward, or are dying in committee, or are being sent to a Rules or Revenue committee where the mid-session deadlines don’t apply. A summary of the most important bills affecting our local food system is below, with links to take action.

Lobbying by Big Ag has killed the mega-dairy moratorium bill for now.

Moratorium on permits for industrial dairies (SB 583): Sadly, this bill that would have allowed a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies has died in committee. Lobbying by powerful industrial agriculture interests have once again prevented the state from enacting reasonable protections of Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare.

However, advocates were able to secure a public hearing in the Senate Committee on Energy and Environment and they need as many concerned constituents as possible to submit testimony to let legislators know it's not a subject that's going to get swept under the rug by powerful interests. Food and Water Watch has produced a template for your testimony that you can copy and paste into the legislative submission form. (Choose the meeting date of April 1, 2021, at 1 pm, then click on SB 583 to copy and paste your testimony.) Also consider sending a copy of your testimony to your legislator. For additional information on mega-dairies in Oregon, read my article "Big Milk, Big Issues for Local Communities."

Oregon needs more local meat processing facilities.

Grant program to increase meat processing capacity (HB 2785): Unanimously passed out of committee with a recommendation for passage, this bill establishes a grant program to fund the building, upgrading or expansion of local meat processing facilities. Oregon’s already acute lack of meat processing capacity has been exacerbated by COVID-19, and investing in processing capacity will go a long way in creating food system resilience post-pandemic. Amy Wong of Friends of Family Farmers said this program would build "infrastructure and hopefully technical assistance for bringing existing, and potentially new, processing facilities up to standards compliance."

It is critical for the members of the Ways and Means Committee and your legislators to understand the importance of helping rural communities recover from COVID-19 and build long-term rural economic development. E-mail committee members and also e-mail your legislators to let them know how much you value and support access to local food. For more information, read about how important access to local meat processing is to Oregon growers.

Oregon should expand access to organic food from local farms.

Oregon Organic Action Plan (HB 2269 and SB 404-3): The Senate bill (SB 404-3) had a successful public hearing on March 15th and is scheduled for a work session on March 29th. The House bill (HB 2269) would increase funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products. This bill likely will end up in the Ways and Means Committee and it will be important for you to e-mail the Co-Chairs and let them know that we want more organic production in Oregon. And consider e-mailing your legislators to let them know how much you value and support access to locally grown organic food.

Funding for Double Up Food Bucks program (HB 2292 and SB 555): The Senate bill (SB 555) had a successful public hearing and work session and is currently in the Ways and Means Committee. The House bill (HB 2292) would continue funding to assist recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (SNAP) to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program. With nearly 1 in 4 Oregonians currently struggling to afford to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families, the number is closer to 1 in 3 in Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities. E-mail your legislators and let them know that this program not only helps keep our neighbors healthy by providing them with fresh, locally grown food, but also benefits our communities and supports local farms.

Manure digesters are a false solution to methane emissions.

Renewal of the Bovine Tax Credit (HB 2451 and SB 151): This bovine manure tax credit proposed to give taxpayer money via tax credits for an additional six years to industrial facilities like feedlots and mega-dairies that have methane digesters that produce biofuels. While industry claims that digesters reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the fact is that burning biogas actually releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants—including smog-forming nitrogen oxides, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide— potentially offsetting other greenhouse gas reductions. Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for Food and Water Watch, said they presents a false solution that doesn't address the underlying problem of methane emissions. At this point it looks like the House and Senate versions of the bill may have died in their respective committees and the tax credit will not be renewed.

Stay tuned for future developments in the 2021 Your Food, Your Legislature series as the legislative sausage gets made! 

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: Mega-Dairy Moratorium, Biogas, Organic Plan on Tap

The Oregon Legislature convened its 81st session on January 11 of this year. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the session will be held remotely with public hearings in both chambers done over videoconference. Governor Brown and the leadership of the House and Senate are planning to focus on the state's response to the COVID pandemic, addressing the damage from the climate change-related wildfires last year and the danger they present in the future, as well as dealing with the usual budget issues.

With all that, there are still bills dealing with Oregon's food system that are on tap for consideration. Here's an abbreviated list of what's coming up:

A moratorium on mega-dairies will be a hot topic this session.

A moratorium on permits for industrial mega-dairies (HB 2924, SB 583): Put forward by Rep. Rob Nosse (D-42) and Senator Michael Dembrow (D-23), these bills temporarily prohibit the state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) from issuing a permit to construct or operate any new industrial dairy, or to expand on an existing industrial dairy. "The moratorium would allow a pause in the permitting of new and expanding mega-dairies until meaningful protections can be enacted to protect Oregon’s air, water, climate, rural communities, small farmers and animal welfare," according to a statement from a coalition of community, farm, environmental and social justice organizations. One of those, Food and Water Watch, is encouraging citizens to sign a letter asking their legislators to co-sponsor the bills. For more information, watch a panel discussion on the topic.

Oregon Organic Action Plan (HB 2269SB 404): Increases funding to the Oregon State University Extension Service for new positions related to organic production as well as funding for expanding the market for organic crops and products. 

Meat processing facilities are critical for a robust food system.

Grant program to increase meat processing capacity (HB 2785): Establishes a grant program to fund upgrades to establishments under a program of state meat inspection. "So many of our [local] meat producers have been negatively impacted by Oregon’s lack of processing capacity," according to Amy Wong, Policy Director of Friends of Family Farmers. Oregon has lost several small processing facilities in the two years, crippling local farms and ranches who need to bring their animals to market. She said this program would build "infrastructure and hopefully technical assistance for bringing existing, and potentially new, processing facilities up to standards compliance." Read about the importance of access to local meat processing to Oregon growers.

Funding for Double Up Food Bucks program (HB 2292SB 440, SB 555): Continuation of funding to assist recipients of supplemental nutrition assistance programs (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, to purchase locally grown fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, farm share sites and retail outlets that participate in program.

Manure digesters aren't the panacea they're cracked up to be.

Renewal of the Bovine Tax Credit (HB 2451, SB 151): A bovine manure tax credit gives taxpayer money via tax credits to industrial facilities like feedlots and mega-dairies that have methane digesters for the production of biofuels. The problem is, as outlined in an issue brief from Food and Water Watch, "despite claims that digesters reduce greenhouse gas emissions, burning biogas actually releases carbon dioxide and other pollutants including smog-forming nitrogen oxides, ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, potentially offsetting other greenhouse gas reductions." Additionally, less than half of methane emissions from an industrial agricultural facility are actually captured by digesters. In addition, digesters, because they are heavily incentivized and subsidized, actually spur the expansion of these kinds of industrial facilities, according to Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for Food and Water Watch. She said they presents a false solution that doesn't address the underlying problem of methane emissions. Needless to say, consumer and watchdog organizations will be active in making sure this bill does not make it onto the floor for a vote.

Stay tuned for future installments in the 2021 Your Food, Your Legislature series as the legislative sausage gets made this session!

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.