The Fictional War on Family Farmers
By Dave Sligh
Trial in the federal court case between Waterkeeper Alliance and the owners and operators of a poultry farm on the Delmarva peninsula in Maryland is set to begin on Oct. 9. This case has been painted, through an extensive and coordinated industry campaign, as a battle between radical environmentalists and beleaguered family farmers. That picture is grossly distorted.
The story is really a simple one. The Hudsons, who own the farm, and Perdue, Inc., which has a major part in operating it, have been accused of discharging pollution from the facility to nearby Franklin Branch and the Pocomoke River downstream and of violating the Clean Water Act and Maryland laws. State water quality officials refused to take action adequate to ensure that public safety and resources were protected, so the Assateague Coastkeeper and Waterkeeper Alliance stepped in.
The really interesting question is: who is behind the dishonest public relations blitz that’s been waged and who does it serve?
Conclusion: the agribusiness industry and it’s loyal adjunct the Farm Bureau.
If you believed the propaganda being spewed forth by Perdue and the farm-industrial complex, you’d think the Hudsons are being persecuted for forgetting to wipe their feet or letting fluffy, white feathers float out onto their pristine farm fields. Really! That’s the kind of chicken@*%$ they’re spreading around the countryside. Their absurd message: water quality advocates hate farmers and seek to torture them and destroy all farms.
If you think I’m exaggerating, read the editorial by John Vogel at Farm Progress from April of this year. The title of Vogel’s piece signals the kind of reasoned and fact-based writing that is to follow: Eco-terrorists’ incite a culture of fear. He goes on to claim: “The suit alleges that dusty air from the chicken house’s fans and manure from the workers’ feet are polluting a tributary to the Pocomoke River, some seven miles away” and he compares water quality advocates to “crusaders” who used the weapon of fear and “caused countless atrocities over thousands of years.”
Below, from publicly available filings, are just a few of the seemingly sensible assertions upon which Waterkeepers based their claims that the Hudson farm was polluting public waters. Vogel apparently missed these, surely through an oversight, for to purposely omit them would have been to intentionally mislead the public and inflame the situation:
• Alan Hudson received $24,591.88 of taxpayer money from the Maryland Agriculture Water Quality Cost Share (MACS) Program to install five “heavy use area” (HUA) pads outside his barns. To receive the funding, Hudson certified that the pads were required “to solve a water quality problem” at his chicken facility.
• Hudson certified that the water quality problem cited above was caused by “an agricultural facility area heavily used by animals, vehicles, and equipment leading to water quality degradation of the Pocomoke River.”
• Perdue listed the Hudson Farm as one of its top ten farms of concern due to environmental problems and prospective liability, out of 681 farms it helps operate in the Delmarva region.
• One of the heavy use pads the Hudsons planned to install was never constructed, despite the public funding provided, because the house was too near a drainage ditch that can carry pollution directly to Franklin Branch. Another pad was built at half the expected size, also because the water drainage ditch was too close and likely to be contaminated.
• Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) inspectors and Perdue employees reported manure on the HUA pads on numerous occasions and the Perdue “Flock Supervisor” repeatedly instructed the Hudsons to clean the pads.
• Stream sampling conducted by MDE and by Waterkeepers (all deemed technically valid by experts from both sides) showed levels of pollutats that far exceeded those allowed under Marlyand law and the Clean Water Act, including levels of dangerous disease-causing bacteria hundreds of times those considered safe for human exposure. Samples taken downstream from the poultry areas showed pollutant levels much higher than those collected upstream of the facility.
So, to summarize the supposedly outrageous charges: The Hudsons and Perdue said there were pollution problems at the farm, the State of Maryland gave them public money to fix those problems, the solutions were only partly installed and not well maintained, and the stream was polluted as a result.
Power and Irresponsibility
One reality is that nobody wants families to be forced to stop farming. A second widely-understood reality is that the single greatest force driving farm families away from their traditional lives is the ever-growing domination of food production by huge companies like Perdue, Inc.
Those families who are trying to cling to their land and their heritage too often have to become “integrated” into the systems created and run by these mammoth corporations, because the farmers can see no other way to stay on their farms. People like the Hudsons aren’t factory farmers. They are farmers who’ve become cogs in Perdue’s industrial food machine.
The court will decide whether the Hudsons and Perdue violated the Clean Water Act and Maryland law but the assertions made by Waterkeeper Alliance and the Assateague Coastkeeper are anything but vicious or farfetched. In fact, the exact kinds of pollution problems asserted here are identified on farms across the country every day. The scale of operations in today’s dominant form of “farming” makes such problems inevitable. Way too many animals, producing too much manure, in much too small a space.
Even with this fact of life though, farmers are usually willing to make changes and eliminate problems when they can, and they get praised for doing so—even by those "heartless environmentalists" that Perdue, the Farm Bureau and some politicians rage against. Further, not only do taxpayers help pay for improvements on thousands of farms every year, non-profit environmental groups chip in too. Members of the Waterkeeper Alliance from around the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and all around the U.S., help fund pollution improvements on farms and in communities and they provide planning and volunteer labor in many cases. They even work directly with farmers who choose to do the right thing.
This case involving the Hudsons would not be the public spectacle it has become if only the Hudsons had been named in the Waterkeepers’ original notice of intent to file suit. Perdue would not have raced to the aid of the Hudsons, hired expensive advertising firms and rallied big money sources to finance this campaign, if the corporation had not also been named as a violator in the Waterkeeper complaint. (Read Bob Gallagher’s article Perdue’s PR Campaign of Deceit).
Perdue and the rest of the giants of industrial agriculture are afraid. Their vehement, nearly hysterical, attacks in this case, leveled at citizens insisting on clean water and conformance with the laws, proves they’re scared. They cannot admit that neither the Hudsons nor any other contract grower who works for an industrial food factory should be left holding the bag and the expense of dealing with the animal wastes their operations produce.
They are frantic, because they could finally face the responsibility that has been theirs all along. Both owners and operators of discharging facilities are legally bound to prevent or clean up their pollution. Below is a small sampling of the evidence Waterkeeper Alliance presents to prove that Perdue is the dominant force in operating the poultry facilities on the Hudsons’ property:
• “Growers,” such as the Hudsons, are required to sign an agreement provided by Perdue if they want to raise birds for them. Perdue can end the agreement without notice or reason.
• Perdue owns the birds they send to the Hudsons and sets all of the conditions under which the birds are raised. The Hudsons are not allowed to deviate from the instructions Perdue gives them.
• The Hudsons have to use the feed, drugs, fuels, disinfectants and other supplies Perdue tells them to use. Perdue furnishes many of these items and arranges for the veterinary care of the birds.
• Perdue has the unrestricted right to enter the Hudson’s property and inspect the flock and the facilities. During some months, Perdue officials have been on-site as often as every other day.
• When Perdue officials are on the Hudsons’ farm, they can and often do, take direct actions to maintain and operate the facility and look after the birds. They install equipment, adjust gages and controls, cull birds from the flocks and perform many other tasks.
• When Perdue officials aren’t directly performing tasks at the Hudson’s farm, they provide the family with extensive and detailed notes on actions they want taken. The Hudson’s are expected to carry out these instructions.
• Perdue controls visitor access to the Hudsons’ poultry production facilities.
Perdue is correct about one message presented in its public relations campaign against reasonable environmental enforcement. The Hudsons should not bear the cost of a lawsuit and possible penalties alone—Perdue should pay to clean up its messes in direct proportion to the profits it shares with the Hudsons.
By Tara Lohan
Our plastic pollution problem has reached new heights and new depths.
Scientists have found bits of plastic on the seafloor, thousands of feet below the ocean's surface. Plastic debris has also washed ashore on remote islands; traveled to the top of pristine mountains; and been found inside the bodies of whales, turtles, seabirds and people, too.
1. There’s a lot of it.<p>In a September study published in <em>Science </em>about the growth of plastic waste, an international team of researchers estimated that 19 to 23 million metric tons — or 11% of plastic waste generated — ended up in aquatic ecosystems in 2016. And even with countries pledging to help cut waste or better manage it, the amount of plastic pollution is <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1515" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">likely to double</a> in the next 10 years.</p><p>A <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1455" target="_blank">study</a> about solutions to plastic waste, published in the same issue, attributed the plastic pollution epidemic to a rise in single-use plastic and "an expanding 'throw-away' culture." The researchers also found that waste-management systems simply can't deal with the onslaught of plastic, which is why so much of it ends up in the environment. We now know that only <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.org/article/whopping-91-percent-plastic-isnt-recycled/" target="_blank">9% of the plastic products</a> we use actually get recycled.</p>
2. The United States is a big culprit.<p>Plastic pollution is a global problem, but the United States plays an outsized role. In 2016 the United States was responsible for more plastic waste than any other country, a <a href="https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/44/eabd0288" target="_blank">new study</a> in <em>Science Advances</em> found. Some of that waste was dumped illegally within the country and some was shipped to other countries that lacked the necessary infrastructure to handle it.</p><p>"The amount of plastic waste generated in the United States estimated to enter the coastal environment in 2016 was up to five times larger than that estimated for 2010, rendering the United States' contribution among the highest in the world," the researchers concluded. Part of that is because the United States ranks second in exporting plastic scrap.</p>
3. It threatens wildlife and ecosystems.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg3MTUwMi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzE1MzM2MH0.YL5C-5GF2mq9OZBLSkcAnreq2Mai20DweKSNqeUSWM4/img.jpg?width=980" id="20233" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3db4a05d5d417d925a770cf309db1db1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
A giant otter plays with a plastic bottle. Paul Williams / CC BY-NC 2.0<p>Out of sight (for Americans) is <em>not </em>out of mind — and definitely not out of our waterways. An estimated 700 marine species and 50 freshwater species have either ingested plastic or been entangled in it.</p><p>"If we don't get the plastic pollution problem in the ocean under control, we threaten contaminating the entire marine food web, from phytoplankton to whales," George Leonard, the Ocean Conservancy's chief scientist and coauthor of the September <em>Science </em>study about plastic waste's increase, <a href="https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/10/plastic-pollution-huge-problem-not-too-late-to-fix-it/" target="_blank">told <em>National Geographic</em></a>. "And by the time the science catches up to this, perhaps definitively concluding that this is problematic, it will be too late. We will not be able to go back. That massive amount of plastic will be embedded in the ocean's wildlife essentially forever."</p><p>Microplastics have also been found in terrestrial animals, soil, drinking water and, not surprisingly, <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/victoriaforster/2020/08/18/microplastics-found-in-human-organs-for-the-first-time/?sh=42994a4e16f2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">in our own bodies</a>, although it's not clear yet just how dangerous that is for people.</p>
4. The fracking boom is producing a plastic boom.<p>Despite the known risks of plastic pollution and concern over its mounting presence in the environment, plastic production — driven by fossil fuels like fracked gas and its component chemicals — is on pace to increase by 40% in the next 10 years.</p><p>The American Chemistry Council <a href="https://www.americanchemistry.com/Shale-Infographic/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">boasted that shale gas drilling is driving a surge</a> in plastic production, including the investment of more than $200 billion to fund new and expanded operations at 343 production plants in the United States.</p><p>On the ground this means more harmful pollution along the Gulf Coast's "Cancer Alley," where petrochemicals have been manufactured for decades in low-wealth communities of color. And it means the build-out of new facilities in Rust Belt states such as Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.</p><p>Fracking also causes harmful greenhouse gas emissions, like methane, to be released into the atmosphere — amplifying the climate crisis. The refining process and the incineration of plastic waste also further drives greenhouse emissions and hazardous pollution.</p>
A petrochemical plant in Houston's ship channel. Louis Vest / CC BY-NC 2.0
5. Solutions are multifaceted.<p><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/plastic-pollution-do-beach-cleanups-really-make-a-difference/a-46196975" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Beach cleanups</a> tend to make headlines, but it's a losing battle as long as petrochemical companies keep producing so much plastic and we keep using plastic for products we're meant to toss after a single use.</p><p>The September study in <em><a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/369/6510/1455" target="_blank">Science</a></em> on plastic solutions found that it's possible to cut plastic pollution — perhaps as much as 80% by 2040 — but it will take systemic change both in reducing the amount of plastic produced and in better managing the waste stream.</p><p>Regulatory efforts can help this process, including by regulating plastic as a pollution source under the Clean Water Act.</p><p>Efforts to ban single-use plastics, as the European Union aims to do by 2021, are another positive step. So too are "<a href="https://therevelator.org/california-plastic-legislation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">circular economy laws</a>," which have been <a href="https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/house-bill/5845?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22H.R.5%22%5D%7D&s=1&r=5" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">introduced, but not yet passed</a>, in the United States.</p><p>These laws would halt the production of new petrochemical facilities and encourage businesses to take responsibility for the full lifecycle of the products they produce by requiring them to be reused, adequately recycled or composted.</p><p>Getting circular economy laws enacted, though, will mean enough public and political will to counter the petrochemical, fossil fuel and plastic industries.</p><p>At <em>The Revelator</em>, we'll keep covering the push for solutions to the plastic problem and new science to better understand the threats. And if you want to know more about how wildlife has already been affected, what laws could help, whether industry will be held accountable and more, check out these stories from our archives:</p><p><strong>Laws and Regulations</strong></p><p><strong></strong><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-warnings/" target="_blank">Plastic Pollution: Could We Have Solved the Problem Nearly 50 Years Ago?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/clean-water-plastic/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How an Old Law Is Helping Fight New Plastic Problems</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/california-plastic-legislation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New California Bill Could Revolutionize How the U.S. Tackles Plastic Pollution</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-laws/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">What Laws Work Best to Cut Plastic Pollution?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-illegal/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Can Plastic Ever Be Made Illegal?</a></p><p><strong>Impacts</strong></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/toxic-plastic-pollution-food-chain/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Something Fishy: Toxic Plastic Pollution Is Traveling Up the Food Chain</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-ship-shore/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plastic Pollution: From Ship to Shore</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastics-fracking-climate/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plans to Turn America's Rust Belt Into a New Plastics Belt Are Bad News for the Climate</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/trash-galapagos-ecotourism/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Trash in the Galápagos Reveals the Dark Side of Ecotourism</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/elephant-seals-diving-garbage/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephant Seals: Diving Through Garbage</a></p><p><strong>Taking Action</strong></p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/story-plastic-review/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Story of Plastic: </a></em><a href="https://therevelator.org/story-plastic-review/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">New Film Exposes the Source of Our Plastic Crisis</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-movie-stuff/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">How to Win the Fight Against Plastic</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/cities-zero-waste/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Can Cities Go Zero-waste? One Japanese Town Tried</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/secret-value-trash/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">The Secret Value of Trash</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/junk-raft-polluted-ocean/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Junk Raft: A Journey Through a Polluted Ocean</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/bioplastics-environment/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Are Bioplastics a Better Environmental Choice?</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-straws-problem-solution/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Plastic Pollution Is a Problem — These Kids Are Working for a Solution</a></p><p><a href="https://therevelator.org/thai-activists-fight-trash-taboo/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Thai Activists Fight Trash Taboo</a></p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/taralohan/" target="_blank">Tara Lohan</a> is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/plastic-pollution-archives/" target="_blank">The Revelator</a>. </em></p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Hundreds of endangered sea turtles were stranded on beaches after suffering "cold stunning" in the waters off Cape Cod, Mass. Local rescuers and wildlife rehabilitators stabilized the turtles at the New England Aquarium (NEAQ) and National Marine Life Center and began treatment. Many of the sea turtles were transported by land or air to partner facilities around the Eastern Seaboard for longer-term care to make room for more incoming, cold-stunned animals.
Rehabilitators at The Turtle Hospital in the Florida Keys assess critically endangered, cold-stunned Kemp's ridley sea turtles flown in after rescue in New England. The Turtle Hospital<p>NEAQ and local rescuers begin seeing turtles every fall when water temperatures drop to that 50 degrees F threshold, and typically expect to find them into early January. After that, <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/sea-turtle-cape-cod-weather-2621527394.html" target="_self">temperatures are so cold that any animals found are usually no longer alive</a>.</p><p>Merigo estimated that this year's cold season "looks very busy" and noted that local rescue efforts had already surpassed 400 turtles.</p><p>"It is a lot of animals. They're still coming in," she told EcoWatch as she surveyed 39 rescued turtles that day and 20 the day prior. "So far, this is a huge year."</p><p>At NEAQ, the turtles are gradually warmed up about five to 10 degrees F a day. More aggressive warming can cause serious damage and the turtle might not survive, Merigo said. Emergency treatments also include providing replacement fluids, balancing electrolytes and addressing pneumonia. Assessments take place for other serious problems too, such as shell or limb fractures, frostbite, emaciation and eye damage.<span></span></p><p>As local aquariums don't have the capacity to care for all the injured turtles, a group of private pilots called <a href="https://www.turtlesflytoo.org/" target="_blank">"Turtles Fly Too"</a> donated planes, fuel and time to transport some to various partner facilities around the country. Other turtles were driven to closer care facilities.</p><p>"We have a huge network of really great partners working with us, so if we can spread out the care, we can give better care to all the animals," Merigo said.</p><p>The 40 Kemp's ridley sea turtles recovering in The Turtle Hospital will continue to be treated and rehabilitated anywhere from 30 days to a year, depending on the severity of injuries, Zirkelbach said.</p><p>The turtle expert noted that while she's treated cold-stunned turtles from the north before, the newest arrivals were the most cold-stunned Kemp's ridleys ever received at one time.</p>
After rescue, cold-stunned sea turtles received immediate emergency care and assessments at the New England Aquarium. Caitlin Cunningham / New England Aquarium<p>In the past decade, the Gulf of Maine, which spans from Cape Cod to Nova Scotia, has warmed 99 percent faster than the rest of the ocean, Zirkelbach said. The warm water encourages turtles that migrate north along the Gulf Stream in warmer months to stay in the bay longer.</p><p>"Turtles that fail to migrate south get stuck in the unique horseshoe-shaped topography of the Cape Cod peninsula, and when temperatures drop, the bay becomes a death trap," she added.</p><p>Before ocean temperatures warmed, the waters of Maine were too cold for many of these sea turtles, Merigo echoed. Now, with warming sea surface temperatures, Maine can reach the high 70s to low 80s, which is "perfect turtle temperature," she said. The potential for more turtles getting trapped in the bay and then cold-stunned is nerve-racking for Merigo.</p><p>In addition to shifting habitats as waters warm, warming global temperatures also disrupt natural gender balance in sea turtles, Merigo warned. Gender is determined by the temperature of eggs in nests, and as the planet warms, it will result in all females at some point, she said.</p><p>"The turtles we work with are all endangered and threatened," Merigo said. "For sea turtles in general, the future is a little grim. Climate change is real; it does impact them."</p>
- 9 Super Cool Facts About Sea Turtles - EcoWatch ›
- Sea Turtles Often Get Lost for Miles, but Always Find Their Destination ›
- 100% of Sea Turtles in Global Study Found With Plastics in Their ... ›
The night sky has a special treat in store for stargazers this winter solstice.
- NASA Satellites Enable Scientists to Observe Climate Change ... ›
- Why Scientists Are Searching for Life in 'Alien Oceans' - EcoWatch ›
- To Save Endangered Species, Scientists Point Stargazing Software ... ›
By Dena Jones
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) was sued three times this past summer for shirking its responsibility to protect birds from egregious welfare violations and safeguard workers at slaughterhouses from injuries and the spread of the coronavirus.
By Julia Conley
Conservation campaigners on Thursday accused President Donald Trump of taking a "wrecking ball" to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the White House announced plans to move ahead with the sale of drilling leases in the 19 million-acre coastal preserve, despite widespread, bipartisan opposition to oil and gas extraction there.
The Sheenjek River in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Alexis Bonogofsky / USFWS
- Bipartisan Bill Seeks to Ban Drilling in Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ›
- Bank of America Promises It Won't Fund Arctic Drilling - EcoWatch ›
- Trump's Drilling Leases on Public Lands Could Lead to 4.7B Metric ... ›
- Trump Administration's Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale a 'Major Flop ... ›
- Will Oil Companies Drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ... ›