Felony convictions and six-figure fines as courts say, “Cut the crap.”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2002–
SACRAMENTO, California–Masami Cattle Ranch owner Masami
Ishida, 70, of Corning, California, was fined $1 million on
March 20, 2002 and was sentenced to serve six months in home
detention for allegedly polluting tributaries of the Sacramento River
with manure from the ranch and a slaughterhouse.
$305,000 of the fine is to be paid to the State of
California. The balance is to be invested in a new waste treatment
system for the ranching and slaughtering complex.
Masami Cattle Ranch foreman Manuel Madera Noriega, 46, was
fined $3,000 and got two years on probation.
Both Ishida and Noriega were convicted of felonies. Felony
raps for polluting rivers with cattle, hog, or chicken manure were
unheard of just a few years ago, but as factory farming concentrates
ever more livestock in locations with insufficient pasture to absorb
the manure, fed-up citizens, courts, and lawmakers are telling
agribusiness to cut the crap.
The Masami Cattle Ranch convictions could send a warning
internationally, as well, since the ranch is part of the same
conglomerate as the Marusho Co. Ltd. slaughterhouse in Osaka, Japan.
Even before the sentences were rendered, a coalition of
California environmental groups on February 21 sued the Central
Valley Water Quality Control Board, seeking to terminate a 1982
regulatory exemption granted to agriculture. The board argued then
that science did not establish that manure runoff was a major
Today, said DeltaKeeper spokesperson Bill Jennings,
“Millions of dollars worth of studies by state and federal agencies
conclusively establish that agricultural pollutants are the most
pervasive source of aquatic toxicity in the Central Valley.”
Brought by DeltaKeeper, of Stockton, BayKeeper, of San
Francisco, and the California Coastal Coalition, the suit is
intended to prevent the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board
from renewing the 1982 exemption when it expires under a “sunset”
statute in 2003.
In heartland, too
Similar cases–and verdicts against factory farmers–are
proceeding in the agricultural heartland of the U.S.
The Nebraska Supreme Court, for example, ruled on March 15
that individual counties have the state constitutional authority to
block the construction of “megafarms” that could jeopardize community
quality of life. The verdict upheld a 1998 Holt County bylaw that
kept Premium Standard Farms from building a “megahog” facility.
In December 2001, Premium Standard Farms settled a pollution
case in Missouri by agreeing to pay a fine of $357,000 and invest as
much as $50 million in new manure storage and treatment equipment.
Cargill Pork agreed in February 2002 to pay $1 million in
federal fines and $51,000 in restitution for allowing a July 2000
manure spill from a 17,000-hog barn complex near Martinsburg, 75
miles northeast of St. Louis. The spill polluted a major tributary
of the Missouri River.
In noteworthy Oklahoma cases, Hanor-Kronseder Farms Inc. was
fined a record $380,000 in November 2001, and a month later Seaboard
Farms agreed to spend $3 million on improved manure handling.
Hanor-Kronseder was penalized for overfilling its 43 manure storage
lagoons 657 times since 1977, while keeping as many as 250,000 hogs
at a time–70,000 more than the operating permits allow. Seaboard
elected to replace some of the lagoons at an existing 25,000-hog farm
in order to gain a permit to build a second farm of about the same
Oklahoma attorney general Drew Edmondson announced on March 8
that he intends to follow up by suing six poultry processors and the
city of Decatur to force a clean-up of the Lake Eucha watershed. The
case would reinforce a lawsuit brought in December 2001 by the city
of Tulsa and the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority against the
city of Decatur, Tyson Foods, the Tyson subsidiary Cobb-Vantress
Inc., Peterson Farms, Simmons Foods, Cargill, and George’s Inc.
The suits against poultry firms may have been encouraged by
the December 2001 agreement of Buckeye Egg Farm, of Licking County,
Ohio, to pay judgements totalling $19.7 million to settle pollution
cases brought by 21 neighbors. Buckeye lost a jury verdict in the
courtroom phase of the case during September 2001, but the terms of
the payout had remained under negotiation.
The 7.5-million-hen Buckeye barns produce about one egg per
two dozen consumed in the U.S.
Despite the recent verdicts and settlements against factory
farm pollution, farmers are still often exempted from penalties for
the consequences of “normal” operation.
In Iowa, Sioux County district judge Dewie J. Gaul on
January 9 ordered Pork Xtra LLC to pay Joseph and Linda Gacke of
Garfield Township $100,000 for devaluing their home through the
operations of a nearby 4,000-hog facility, but Gacke refused to
grant the Gackes an injunction which might have halted hog
production. In a preliminary case, the Gackes in August 2001 won a
ruling that an Iowa state law shielding agribusiness from lawsuits
over pollution was unconstitutional.
A setback for local regulation came in October 2001, when
Kentucky appeals judge Tommy Chandler upheld an April 2001 district
court ruling that Tyson Foods cannot be fined separately for the
pollution caused by each individual chicken kept in Marion County.
The county had adopted an ordinance pegging pollution penalties to
individual animals in an effort to subject megafarms to more
stringent regulation than smaller farmers.
Ruled Chandler, “It is clearly the accumulation of thousands
of chickens that creates the odor, and those thousands of animals
can effect only one trespass.”
New York Governor George Pataki in October 2001 signed a bill
shielding farmers from anti-pollution laws.
In Oklahoma, with the Hanor-Kronseder, Seaboard, and Tulsa
cases still reverberating, the state Water Resources Board on March
12 announced stringent new regulations against discharges of
phosphorous, a common component of manure leaks into waterways–and
suspended enforcement of the regulations until 2012.