The meat industry is infamous for moving from state to state to escape regulatory obstacles -- environmental oversight measures, in particular. CAFOs, or concentrated animal feeding operations, are notorious for consistently polluting surrounding water sources due to unmanageable amounts of animal waste.
The state of Idaho seems to be settling as the prime destination for giant factory farms to evade such crucial regulations. As High Country News points out, "Idaho has vaulted from the 11th to the third-biggest milk producer in the country in the space of 16 years." Dairy operators fleeing regulations in California, Pennsylvania and elsewhere find spacious Idaho to have "a welcoming attitude," according to Boise Weekly.
The poultry industry is looking to jump on the bandwagon, in the wake of stricter operating rules passed in California.
HCN summarizes the legislative moves that have made Idaho an attractive place for CAFOs:
- In 2000, the Idaho Legislature began restricting public comment on where CAFOs could be located -- to only those living within one mile of the proposed location. So, if you live two miles downstream on a river from a CAFO, sorry! You get no say.
- In 2003, the state prohibited its Water Resources Dept. from considering odors, possible health impacts and other matters "in the public interest" when changing water rights for dairy CAFOs.
- In 2010, the Legislature made the manure-management plans of beef feedlots proprietary (private).
- In early 2011, the Legislature moved to keep mega-dairies' manure-management plans kept from public view as well. FIC blogged about why this was a bad idea. The Governor ended up passing the legislation in April 2011, essentially blocking outside oversight.
- The 2011 Legislature also amended Idaho's Right to Farm law, prohibiting local governments from regulating agricultural facilities as nuisances once they've been in operation for more than a year. It also prohibits neighbors from filing complaints using nuisance law.
- The 2011 Legislature transferred the authority to inspect and regulate poultry farms from the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality to the state’s Agriculture Department (Dairy pollution is also regulated by the Ag department, a set-up criticized as a conflict of interest given the department’s role to protect industry).
According to the Idaho Dairymen's Association president, this year alone "is one of the best legislative sessions the IDA has ever seen," adhering to the industry's strategy "to make it easier for dairy farmers to succeed in business." Well, if that means blocking adequate regulation of nitrate and phosphorous contamination in ground and surface water, and reducing oversight of ammonia emissions and other harmful gases, Idaho CAFOs are definitely succeeding.
Removing transparency and deregulating industry equals more money in Big Agriculture's deep pocket, as it gets away with polluting community resources and threatening the health of the residents that utilize them. Instead of making effective changes to reduce CAFO impacts on the environment and public safety, industry simply hides away in Idaho. Shame on Idaho legislatures for letting them.
Sarah Damian is New Media Fellow for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower advocacy organization.