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Environmentalists fight the deregulation of New York dairy farms

| August 9, 2013

A coalition of environmental groups has filed a lawsuit against the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) for the deregulation of medium-sized dairy farms. The coalition claims that the DEC has violated both federal and state laws by easing regulations on farm waste management.

The DEC’s rolled back regulations for mid-sized Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in order to increase milk production and meet the skyrocketing demand for Greek yogurt. Unfortunately, this will adversely affect water and air quality.

Dairy farms

Dairy farms and their emissions are major contributors to climate change. From USDA.gov.

What this deregulation means?

Previously, farms with more than 200 cows were classified as medium-size CAFOs, which meant they were subjected to strict waste management regulations. Now, farms with fewer than 300 cows are exempt from obtaining CAFO permits, allowing farmers to determine manure management and farm operations without DEC oversight. The coalition fears that this lack of oversight will lead to the contamination of nearby waters, as CAFO standards are designed to safeguard water bodies from the high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous transmitted by manure. Without CAFO permits, there’s no guarantee that water quality will be managed as per the Clean Water Act and New York water quality statutes.

“NYSDEC expects 285 farms to grow into the exempted size category in addition to the 72 that already exist, which would produce over three million pounds of additional wet manure each day and greatly increase the risk that such additional manure will be improperly managed, stored and land applied,” the coalition says in its complaint.

Environmental effects of the deregulation

Although, previous regulations may have seemed to be an unnecessary burden on mid-sized farms, they are needed to manage the massive amount of pollutants emitted by CAFOs. In fact, CAFOs are the largest nitrogen polluters in the country and major contributors to climate change.

 

 

Greek Yogurt

As the demand for Greek yogurt increases, so does pollution. From tbiley.

 

 

Studies cited by the group filing the lawsuit suggest that excessive manure on farmland, if not managed properly, could flow into streams and rivers, resulting in the pollution of drinking water and exposure to pathogens transported by animal waste.

Because New York State is a large producer of Greek yogurt, the DEC decision would also lead to more gallons of by-product acid whey, which is toxic in nature and can kill aquatic life if dumped or disposed of improperly.

Reasons for deregulation of dairy farms

Proponents of the deregulation believe that the CAFO standards are too expensive and discourage farm expansion. Most small dairy farms with 200 cows or less have simple waste management systems. Upgrading these systems to meet the CAFO regulations would mean a substantial investment.

CAFO requirements, as per the Governor’s office, are a costly regulatory burden on small farms. Eliminating them may allow farmers to reinvest their resources into expanding their operations to supporting the state’s growing demand Greek yogurt.

However, while the DEC believes it is mitigating costs by reducing regulatory burden, it is really just transferring these costs to the public, who will ultimately have to pay the price for consuming water of diminishing quality. Moreover, to some, a relaxation in regulations to allow dairy farm expansion seems like a lop-sided bargain since the cost of expansion is far greater than what dairy farm operators would have to pay to meet CAFO regulations.

DEC spokesman, Peter Constantakes assured the public that the revised regulations, which took effect in May, will continue to ensure the protection of water quality while reducing a regulatory burden on small farms. He declined to comment on the lawsuit.

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Category: Food, Regulations

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