Tag Archives: dairy

EPA finalizing plans to supply water in Kewaunee

The federal Environmental Protection Agency says it’s finalizing a plan to supply water to some residents of Kewaunee County of northeastern Wisconsin, where manure from large dairy farms is being blamed for contaminated wells.

Robert Kaplan, acting regional administrator for the EPA, told residents at a meeting organized by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin this past week that his agency will announce a plan within the next month to supply residents who have tainted wells. This is according to a report in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel carried by the AP.

Farming practices have been a source of friction in many areas of Wisconsin.

The issue has been especially visible in Kewaunee County, which has longstanding groundwater problems, a large cattle population, and fractured bedrock that allows manure, waste from septic systems and other pollutants to trickle more quickly into aquifers.

In March, six environmental groups called on the EPA to step in and clean up unsafe drinking water in Kewaunee County.

“It is unacceptable that more than one-third of the private drinking water wells in Kewaunee County are unsafe — contaminated with bacteria, nitrates and other pollutants,” Elizabeth Wheeler, senior staff attorney with Clean Wisconsin, said at the time.

Clean Wisconsin, Midwest Environmental Advocates, Midwest Environmental Defense Center, Kewaunee Cares, Clean Water Action Council of Northeast Wisconsin and Environmental Integrity Project wrote to the EPA and requested federal support for clean, safe drinking water.

Also, in October 2014, the groups petitioned the EPA, asking for intervention under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA, in a letter sent to the agency’s Chicago office, was asked to:

  • Immediately provide Kewaunee County residents with clean water.
  • Expedite test results of well water contamination.
  • Issue emergency rule changes to ensure the DNR has authority to protect water.
  • Provide more research and groundwater monitoring on sources of pollution.

The groups also asked the EPA to monitor closely the DNR’s efforts to develop a plan to implement recommendations.



Walker moves to weaken manure rules after dairy complaints

Defying environmentalists worried about groundwater contamination, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has scaled back proposed rules regulating factory farms’ manure spreading amid complaints from the dairy industry.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters said Walker’s move diminishes more than a year’s worth of work by a coalition of citizens, government officials and the DNR through the Groundwater Collaboration Working Group to address groundwater pollution in the state.

The state Department of Natural Resources last month completed scope statements to update manure spreading regulations for factory farms statewide, with special restrictions for sensitive areas and new rules on airborne spraying. As per state law, the agency submitted the statements to Gov. Scott Walker’s office for approval.

Walker’s office then shared them with the Dairy Business Association, which expressed concerns about the plan.

So in mid-July, the agency submitted a more limited scope statement to Walker. And the  governor approved it the same day.

The new statement doesn’t include revisions on airborne spraying and doesn’t bring rules in line with new state and federal regulations.

This new information was revealed by the Wisconsin State Journal just days before a DNR board meeting where the rules are to be discussed.

The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters said in a news release that citizens from across the state — some of whom are directly impacted by manure-contaminated drinking water, lakes, and rivers — plan to attend the meeting to make sure the NRB knows the importance of developing strong water protections.

“This move makes it abundantly clear Gov. Walker puts very little value on the health and safety of Wisconsinites,” Kerry Schumann, executive director of WLCV, stated in a news release. “Instead, he seems to favor business interests that refuse to make common sense changes to drinking water regulations.”

The group’s final report was initiated by a petition filed with the Environmental Protection Agency.

At the public NRB meeting tomorrow in Ashland, WLCV will deliver about 2,000 letters from citizens on the issue.

“The NRB has now become the last line of defense in the battle for meaningful change that will protect Wisconsin’s most precious resource,” Schumann said.

The league said in some areas of the state, more than 30 percent of private wells are polluted with nitrates, bacteria, endocrine disruptors and other dangerous substances.


PETA brings ‘Not a Dairy Queen’ to Dairy State for Pride

PETA will take a new outreach campaign that promotes vegan eating to LGBT Pride celebrations this summer, including this weekend’s PrideFest in Milwaukee.

An announcement from the animal rights group said the campaign stars gay vegan icon Alan Cumming sporting PETA’s new pink T-shirt that reads, “Not a Dairy Queen.”

Volunteers wearing the pink shirts will give PrideFest Milwaukee event participants free postcards bearing Alan’s image, which “have information on the back about the cruelty common in the dairy trade as well as the many health benefits of a diet free of all animal-derived food and ingredients.”

PETA said other notable gay vegetarians include Ellen DeGeneres, Boy George, Joan Jett and RuPaul’s Drag Race winner Sharon Needles, who starred in another pro-vegan campaign for the nonprofit.

New USDA rules could improve choices for consumers with food stamps

The Agriculture Department unveiled new rules on on Feb. 16 that would require retailers who accept food stamps to stock a wider variety of healthy foods or face the loss of business as consumers shop elsewhere.

The proposed rules are designed to ensure that the more than 46 million Americans who use food stamps have better access to healthy foods although they don’t dictate what people buy or eat. A person using food stamp dollars could still purchase as much junk food as they wanted, but they would at least have more options in the store to buy fruits, vegetables, dairy, meats and bread.

“USDA is committed to expanding access for SNAP participants to the types of foods that are important to a healthy diet,” Kevin Concannon, USDA undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services, said in a statement. “This proposed rule ensures that retailers who accept SNAP benefits offer a variety of products to support healthy choices for those participating in the program.”

In 2014, Congress required the Agriculture Department to develop regulations to make sure that stores that accept food stamp dollars, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, stock a wider array of healthy food choices.

Under current rules, SNAP retailers must stock at least three varieties of foods in each of four food groups: fruits and vegetables, dairy, breads and cereals, and meats, poultry and fish. The new rules would require the retailers to stock seven varieties in each food group, and at least three of the food groups would have to include perishable items. In all, the rules would require stores to stock at least 168 items that USDA considers healthy.

The proposal would also require that retailers have enough in stock of each item so that the foods would be continuously available.

The rules could mean that fewer convenience stores qualify to be SNAP retailers. The convenience store industry has argued that it often operates the only stores that serve certain neighborhoods and at certain times, like overnight. Concannon said the department would try to ensure that the rules don’t affect SNAP recipients’ access to food retailers, and the department may consider waiving the proposed requirements in some areas.

The rules come as a key House Republican is pushing for drug tests for food stamp recipients and new cuts to the program.

Alabama Rep. Robert Aderholt, the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees USDA spending, introduced a bill earlier in February that would allow states to require drug testing. The move is designed to help states like Wisconsin, where conservative Republican Gov. Scott Walker has sued the federal government, to permit screening.

USDA has pushed back on such efforts, as it did when Republicans unsuccessfully attempted to cut 5 percent from the program during negotiations over the 2014 farm bill. The push comes as SNAP use has skyrocketed — the program served more than 46 million Americans and cost $74 billion last year. That’s twice the program’s 2008 cost.

“While I have not seen Rep. Aderholt’s proposed legislation, I have serious concerns about an approach that could deprive a family of access to food and basic necessities simply because a member of the family is struggling with addiction,” Vilsack said after Aderholt introduced the bill.

Idaho appeals ruling against state’s ‘ag-gag’ law

The state of Idaho is appealing a federal court’s decision to overturn the state’s “ag-gag” law.

The law makes it a crime to videotape agriculture operations. Idaho lawmakers passed the law in 2014 after the state’s $2.5 billion dairy industry complained that videos of weak, dying cows being beaten and stomped on at a southern Idaho dairy unfairly hurt their business.

The vicious brutality caught on video sparked a consumer backlash, as did the images of sickly, terrified cows covered with ulcers and feces being prodded with electrical rods into slaughter tunnels.

The Los Angeles-based animal rights group Mercy For Animals released the videos, shot in 2012 at Bettencourt Dairy.

Similar conditions have been documented in other states, including Wisconsin. Republican “pro-business” legislators in Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee and other states have either passed or tried to pass legislation similar to Utah’s in order to protect companies from public exposure of the squalid, brutal conditions under which animals are kept in factory farms/

A federal court invalidated Utah’s law in August, holding that it violates the First Amendment.

The state appealed that ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

The picture shown here is known as a “death pile.” After being crammed into spaces so small they can’t move and loaded with steroids, hormones and anibiotics to make them grow, factory farm animals end up in piles like this before their parts are butchered and sold in shiny cellophane-wrapped packages on supermarket shelves. Their short lives are lived amid conditions of unimaginable brutality and squalor.

Wisconsin cheesemaker debuts 20-year cheddar at $209 a pound

A Wisconsin cheesemaker is debuting a 20-year-old cheddar this week that’s short in supply and big on price.

The cheddar from Hook’s Cheese Co. of Mineral Point goes on sale Friday for $209 a pound. Most of the 450-pound supply is already spoken for, with orders coming in after the planned sale went public earlier this year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported.

“It’s like a milestone in the cheese industry,” said Ken Monteleone, owner of an artisan cheese shop in Madison.

There’s about of 20 pounds of the cheddar that’s unaccounted for, said cheesemaker Tony Hook. The company will sell it starting Friday at its store and Saturday at a farmers market in Madison.

Tony and Julie Hook are giving $40,000 from the cheese sale to the Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

“The dairy center has done so much good, we’re trying to help,” Tony Hook said. “They’re helping future generations and even our generation now.”

Although the price of the cheddar is steep, it’s fair because the Hooks could’ve sold it long ago, according to cheese retails and restaurant owners.

“It’s really saying something that he took care of this cheese for 20 years,” said Steve Ehlers, co-owner of a market outside of Milwaukee.

Tony Hook isn’t planning to make any more 20-year cheddar, he said, adding that he might set aside some of the current 10- to 12-year cheddar. His company’s cheeses are made moist enough that they remain creamy and flavorful even as they crumble and harden with age, Hook said.

“Who knows?” he said. “Maybe if you aged it 100 years it would be a solid rock and you’d have to lick it to see what it tasted like.”

Information from: Wisconsin State Journal, http://www.madison.com/wsj

Mercy for Animals opposes an ‘ag-gag’ bill in Wisconsin

Mercy for Animals is responding to reports that Wisconsin lawmakers plan to propose an “ag-gag” bill aimed at prohibiting the taking of photographs or videos on a farm without the owner’s permission.

Mercy for Animals is one of the groups at the forefront of a campaign to expose animal cruelty at farms and in the factory farming industry using videos and photographs taken by undercover investigators.

In a statement released on Jan. 29, Mercy said a Wisconsin bill would be in direct response to Mercy’s 2014 undercover investigations at Wisconsin dairy factory farms. The investigations exposed workers kicking, punching, beating and dragging cows and resulted in arrests and criminal prosecution.

Nathan Runkle, Mercy For Animals’ founder and president, said in a statement on Jan. 29: “Mercy For Animals, like most Americans, is adamantly opposed to Wisconsin’s dangerous ag-gag bill. This misguided bill is a blatant violation of free speech and freedom of the press. It keeps consumers in the dark, threatens public health, and hurts animals by shielding animal abusers from public scrutiny.

He continued, “If passed, this ag-gag bill would create a safe haven for animal abuse and other criminal activity on Wisconsin’s factory farms. Not only does this bill virtually guarantee animal abuse will continue, it also threatens workers’ rights, consumer health, food safety, and the freedom of journalists, employees, and the public at large to share information about something as fundamental as our food supply.”

One Mercy For Animals undercover investigation at Wiese Brothers Farms in Greenleaf revealed workers viciously kicking, beating, whipping, dragging and stabbing cows. The investigation resulted in the arrest and prosecution of four workers, who were convicted of multiple counts of criminal cruelty to animals. The investigation also led Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, to institute a comprehensive animal welfare policy designed to prevent egregious animal abuse for all of its suppliers worldwide.

Runkle said, “The Legislature should be strengthening laws to prevent animal abuse on factory farms. Instead, Wisconsin lawmakers are working overtime to silence the brave whistleblowers who expose cruelty to animals or other serious crimes.

“Wisconsin’s ag-gag bill is patently un-American, dangerous, and a broad government overreach. Clearly Wisconsin’s factory farmers have a lot to hide from the American people if they are willing to go to such despicable lengths to conceal their cruel and abusive practices.”

Wisconsin group exposes factory-farms and mislabeled ‘organic’ foods

A Wisconsin-based farm policy and research group is pursuing formal complaints against 14 industrial livestock operations that are producing dairy, eggs and meat being wrongfully marketed as “organic.”

The group, the Cornucopia Institute, said it took action after years of inaction by the USDA and contracted for aerial photography over factory farms in nine states over eight months.

The group, in its report released on Dec. 11, said it documented “a systemic pattern of corporate agribusiness interests operating industrial-scale confinement livestock facilities providing no legitimate grazing, or even access to the outdoors, as required by federal organic regulations.”

Representatives of several companies took issue with Cornucopia’s claims, saying the report contained inaccuracies and false accusations.

Mark A. Kastel, a senior farm policy analyst with the group, said, “The federal organic regulations make it very clear that all organic livestock must have access to the outdoors and that ruminants, like dairy cows, must have access to pasture. The vast majority of these massive, industrial-scale facilities, some managing 10,000-20,000 head of cattle, and upwards of 1 million laying hens, had 100 percent of their animals confined in giant buildings or feedlots.”

Kastel and Cornucopia emphasized that family-scale farmers who helped grow the organic movement in the 1980s did so, in part, because agribusiness consolidation and control of the food supply was squeezing profit margins and forcing farmers off the land.

Consumers made organics a rapidly growing market sector by supporting farmers and processors willing to produce food to a different standard in terms of environmental stewardship, humane animal husbandry and economic fairness for farmers.

“Shoppers, who passionately support the ideals and values represented by the organic label, understandably feel betrayed when they see photos of these massive concentrated animal feeding operations masquerading as organic,” Kastel said.

Cornucopia has created organic brand scorecards for consumers.

“Many of our dairy farmer-members have animals they truly care for, that have names, not numbers,” Kastel said.

Cornucopia filed its first legal complaints against industrial operations in 2004 and, as a result, the largest dairy supplying the Horizon/Whitewave label was decertified and the USDA placed sanctions against Aurora Dairy, which produces private-label organic milk for Walmart, Costco, Target and other retailers.

Cornucopia remains concerned with other producers and suppliers.

“The inaction by the USDA places thousands of ethical family-scale farmers, who are competing with a couple of dozen giant dairies, at a competitive disadvantage,” said Kevin Engelbert, a New York-based dairyman, milking 140 cows who, along with his family, was the first certified organic dairy producer in the United States.

He added, “Allowing … illegal dairies to continue to operate is a travesty and significantly undercuts the supply-demand dynamic that should be rewarding farmers in the marketplace and providing a decent living for our families.”

In the chicken industry, the USDA has allowed corporate agribusiness to confine as many as 100,000 laying hens in a building, sometimes exceeding a million birds on a “farm,” and substituting a tiny screened porch for true access to the outdoors.

The organics loophole, “porched-poultry,” was first allowed in 2002 in a case involving The Country Hen, a Massachusetts egg producer, to confine tens of thousands of birds in a barn with an attached porch that might, at best, hold 5 percent of the birds in the main building.

Animal advocates, farm workers sue FDA over animal growth drugs

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of several ractopamine-based animal drugs is being challenged by animal advocates and farm workers. The groups are suing the FDA for failing to take into account the drugs’ cumulative effects on animal behavior, worker safety, wildlife or the nation’s waterways.

The lawsuit focuses on ractopamine, a drug fed to farm animals to promote rapid weight gain. The drug has been banned in dozens of countries and is said to cause death, lameness, stiffness, trembling and shortness of breath in farm animals.

The groups are suing because FDA has allowed millions of pigs, turkeys and cows to be fed ractopamine-based animal drugs without considering the cumulative impacts of the agency’s actions. The drugs include new combinations of ractopamine with controversial antibiotics and steroids. These drugs remain active in animal waste, and when sprayed on fields, or spilled from manure lagoons, they can wreak havoc on habitat, wildlife and endangered species.

“The FDA’s actions have far-reaching impacts on millions of animals, millions of acres of habitat, and thousands of farm workers throughout the United States,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, who works in the Animal Protection Litigation department at The Humane Society of the United States. “America’s animal factories are pumping out uncounted tons of ractopamine-laced animal waste into the environment each year, and the FDA has no idea what the long-term environmental effects might be.” 

Ractopamine can make animals severely stressed and difficult to handle, increasing the likelihood of injuring or killing farm workers. Workers’ exposure to antibiotics like Tylosin also endangers them and their families because exposure to the antibiotics can leave them more vulnerable to dangerous antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

“The wide-spread use of these drugs adds another layer of risk for farm workers, who are already doing some of the most dangerous jobs in America on factory farms, and puts farm worker communities at increased risk of illness and disease” said Erik Nicholson, national vice-president for United Farm Workers of America. 

“Consumers are increasingly demanding humane treatment of farmed animals and the U.S. should be at the forefront of animal protection rather than lagging behind the international curve,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in San Francisco by The Humane Society of the United States, The United Farm Workers, and The Animal Legal Defense Fund, asks the Court to set-aside FDA’s approvals of the drugs at issue while the agency performs the environmental review required under federal law.

From the plaintiffs in the case:

• Ractopamine is fed to between 60 to 80 percent of all U.S. pigs, cattle and turkeys.

• Tylosin is an antibiotic given to livestock to promote growth and FDA considers it “critically important” to human medicine. Tylosin-resistant bacteria has been found in the soil and air downwind of factory farms.  

• Monensin is a livestock antibiotic administered to promote growth. Even in low doses it has direct toxic effects on soil animals and presents a potential ecological risk.

• Melengestrol is a synthetic steroid hormone used in dairy and beef cattle. The European Union prohibits the use of melengestrol because of the potential risks to human health from hormone residues in bovine meat.

• The FDA has never prepared an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment of the cumulative and combined effects of its approvals of Ractopamine and Ractopamine-based combination drugs on the vast majority of the pigs, cattle, and turkeys raised for food in the United States, nor even presented its decisions to the public for review or comment by outside experts.

A 16-year vegan, Alicia Silverstone talks about her plant-based diet

Alicia Silverstone may have made her acting mark as a “Clueless” valley girl, but these days she’d rather be known as someone so very clued in about diet and health.

It was more than 16 years ago that Silverstone switched to a vegan diet, ditching animal products such as dairy and meat. Since then, she’s become an outspoken advocate for what she considers a cleaner, leaner and healthier way to eat, and written a book — “The Kind Diet” — so others can follow along.

The 38-year-old recently spoke with The Associated Press during Miami’s vegan Seed Food and Wine Festival. She dished about her favorite indulgences, Thanksgiving menu plans, and how perceptions of vegan diets have changed.

“When I used to say I was vegan on (David) Letterman, it was like a huge joke for them, and that’s not the way it is anymore,” she said.

Associated Press: What are some easy tips for someone “flirting” with cutting meat and dairy for a meal, a day, or longer?

Silverstone: The most important thing is to make the connection between wellness and food, and that’s what I think is lacking the most in our culture.

If you had to pick one thing, move away from the foods that are harmful, the meat, the dairy, the sugar, the processed foods. Just gently move away from those and be adding in grains. Even if you make a pot of brown rice every three days and a pot of beans or your favorite bean chili and just a little steamed kale here and there, with those things you’re going to notice such a massive difference and it’s so easy to make those things. Really date vegetarian restaurants. Really start to try those places and enjoy those places so you can see the yumminess that’s out there because none of this should be deprivation.

AP: What are some of your favorite indulges?

Silverstone: I was a hardcore foodie before I went plant-based and I’ve continued to be a hardcore foodie and maybe more of a food snob. If it isn’t amazing, I’m not interested. I know that sounds really, really snobby but it’s the truth because I know what good food is and how delicious it can be. Some of my favorite things that I make, there’s a million, but if you’re needing a meaty, salty fried taste, there’s fat-fried udon noodles with sesame oil, garlic and ginger, or sweet potato hash with kale and smoked Field Roast “sausage.”

AP: So what will you serve for your un-Turkey Day meal?

Silverstone: I haven’t started thinking about Thanksgiving yet, but on my blog (TheKindLife.com) I post all my menus from past Thanksgivings … There’s these leek crostini that I make that are like artichoke, pesto and leek and mushroom that are just insane.

AP: Here’s the inevitable how-do-I-get-my-kids-to-eat-vegetables question.

Silverstone: Once you really start making really healthful delicious food and that’s just the norm and there’s no discussion about it … it doesn’t have to be a battle if that’s how you all eat. That’s what’s served. There isn’t another option. If they’re hungry for dinner and they go on strike, and believe me they will … they’re going to get hungry and come around to the delicious food when their tummy is hungry and their tantrum is over.

AP: Are you seeing more people embracing this lifestyle? And where do you see the evolution going?

Silverstone: This choice improved my health and wellbeing 100 percent. There was this glow from the inside out and that’s what becomes contagious and the more of us that are out there, everyday a new person is woken up to it. I’ve heard from so many people on my website who have lost weight. … It’s changed so many people’s lives so I really do just believe in the simplicity of the story.