Anthrax, brucellosis, erysipelas, tuberculosis, Q fever, foot and mouth, psittacosis, histoplasmosis, ringworm, giardiasis and ascariasis are just some of the different pathogens — or disease-causing organisms — that may be transmittable to humans from animal manure according to epa.gov.
Why does this information matter? For a Chequamegon Bay citizens group known as Farms Not Factories, it means trying to make sure that the area’s waterways are protected from potential pollution. Especially with the Reicks View Farms’ proposed hog stalling or breeding facility that might be built in the town of Eileen in Bayfield County.
“Lake Superior holds 10 percent of the world’s fresh surface water and as such, any industry looking to set up in the Lake Superior Basin needs to be held to an extremely high level of scrutiny,” said FNF co-founder and Bayfield county citizen Mary Dougherty during their first teleconference media briefing on Tuesday.
“The Wisconsin DNR, the main regulatory agency for CAFOs, lacks the staff and funding to protect our shared natural resources and as a result, Farms Not Factories was formed to address these threats and protect our great lakes way of life,” Dougherty said. “Concentrated animal feed operations, a CAFO, unlike the traditional family farm is an industrial animal factory with thousands and thousands of animals confined in a large building.”
The proposed facility would house 26,000 hogs, making it the largest hog CAFO in Wisconsin and the first hog CAFO in the Lake Superior Basin. It also would produce nine million gallons of manure annually, Dougherty said.
“To put that massive amount of manure into perspective, we’re talking about the amount of raw sewage a city the size of La Crosse produces annually,” she said. “That sewage will be injected untreated into clay soil eight miles from Lake Superior.
“The risk of runoff is real and can’t be overstated.”
The main concern with the facility is its proximity to Lake Superior and the potential for pollution it represents though the Fish Creek Watershed.
“Our concerns stem around the fact that industrial agriculture has a track record of threatening the environmental, economic and public health of communities where they set up shop,” Dougherty said. “If we have standards that will protect our existing air and water quality standards and a CAFO can maintain those standards, then theoretically we would have no problem with the CAFO.”
Public health nurse Ellen Braddock, who sits on the County Board of Health, spoke on her own behalf as a concerned resident of Bayfield County and member of FNF.
Braddock feels a responsibility as a nurse to advocate on behalf of people in the community who might not have the same ability to protect themselves from the possible effects of CAFOs and are the most susceptible to toxins from them, such as infants, children, elderly and people who are already sick.
She said she has been working hard to educate herself sine the CAFO proposal came up and spoke about the three major public health impacts that can result from CAFOs, impacts on air, water and the microbiological threats.
“Research clearly demonstrates that CAFOs produce serious human health concerns that are not associated with smaller responsibly managed farms,” Braddock said, citing examples from Iowa and North Carolina studies.
Braddock also referenced a John Hopkins study that found “confined hog factory farms are shown to have certain public health risks that have not been found to be directly associated with confined cattle factory farms,” she said. “So there is a difference.”
According to the CDC, “The most pressing public health issue associated with CAFOs stems from the amount of manure they produce,” Braddock said.
“We are asking our Bayfield County board of supervisors to enact ordinances to regulate CAFO operations, to ensure the health of our air and water and therefore our public health and safety.”
City of Ashland counsel person and concerned small business owner and grandfather Richard Ketring called water our region’s most valuable resource.
“The economy of the Chequamegon Bay region is dependent on the water as a resource for commercial and sport fishing, outdoor enthusiasts for swimming, boating, paddling, municipal governments for domestic water,” said Ketring, sharing that multiple business depend upon the clean waters of the bay for recreation and tourism.
Revenue for Bayfield and Ashland counties tourism is over 70 million dollars.
“The land use practices of concentrated animal feeding operations have contaminated water, air and soil in multiple locations across this county,” he said.
Ketring shared that due to legislations from industrial agriculturalist lobbying, some of the tools that where available in the past such as zoning and setback regulations to protect our local resources have been removed from local control.
He shared that the proposed facility will produce more sewage than the combine populations of Ashland, Bayfield and Iron counties, which will be dispersed on lands in the Fish Creek Watershed.
Michele Merkel, co-director of Food & Water Justice, the legal arm of Food & Water watch and a board member of Socially Responsible Agriculture Project, thinks people need to set the stage and take a stance on where we stand now.
“Really it’s a political fight this is about the community creating demand of their town supervisors to keep animal factories out, to actually craft an ordinance that they are willing to defend in court,” Merkel said.
Many reasons have been speculated as to why Reicks wants to bring their operations here, such as cheaper farmland or to escape a virus that’s killing pigs, but Merkel has other theories.
“It’s usually never the case that an animal factory like the Reicks operation is coming in on its own,” Merkel said, sharing that she has heard mention of regional expansion.
Due to information she has learned from Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI), a group in Iowa who has dealt with the Reicks operation, she believes they are testing out the waters here.
“We just stopped them from putting in two more facilitys in Howard County, Iowa, and they’ve publicly stated that they want to open 20 new of these operations over the course of this year alone in northeast Iowa, in the state they say they are running from, and southeast Minnesota and in Wisconsin,” Merkel said she was told by Iowa CCI.
“It’s not about one facility — this is about bringing in a lot of facilities and infrastructure if it doesn’t exist already to support them,” Merkel said adding she has also heard that the industry wants to make Superior the main export point for Midwestern agricultural.
“Ultimately it’s a cultural question for communities,” Merkel said. “What do the want their communities to look like? Do they want a community that has animal factories?”