10 Things We’ve Learned Fighting Factory Farms in Oregon

Published Jun 20, 2024

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Food System

Six years after we shut down one of the worst-polluting mega-dairies in Oregon history, it's clearer than ever: we need to end factory farming.

Six years after we shut down one of the worst-polluting mega-dairies in Oregon history, it's clearer than ever: we need to end factory farming.

June 27 marks six years since Oregon finally shut down one of the most egregious polluters in our state’s history. The Lost Valley Farms mega-dairy was a disaster from the beginning, and its abuses galvanized Oregonians across the state. Since then, the fight against factory farms has only continued to grow. Today, we’re looking back on what we’ve learned from Lost Valley and where we’re going next.

Lost Valley should never have been permitted to begin with. Its permit was issued before it finalized a waste management plan, secured permanent water rights, or finished construction. Then, once Lost Valley opened, it began violating that permit almost immediately. 

Intense opposition from the public and organizations, including Food & Water Watch, pressured state regulators to act. By the time they finally revoked the facility’s permit, it had incurred over 200 violations, including for improper manure storage, overflowing lagoons, and improper management of dead animals. These violations put nearby communities and 81 public drinking water systems at risk. 

In a testament to the work of Food & Water Watch and allies in the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition, Lost Valley finally shut down in 2018. Now, six years later, the lessons we have learned are strengthening our efforts and uniting Oregonians around stopping all factory farms. Here are ten of those lessons:

1. Lost Valley wasn’t just “one bad actor.” 

The industry (and occasionally, the Oregon Department of Agriculture and elected officials) likes to paint Lost Valley as a single bad actor. They tell the story as one of a single operator who couldn’t follow the rules, didn’t have the expertise to operate a dairy, and was mired in scandal. They trot this myth out while fighting attempts to better regulate mega-dairies, in opposing local setbacks, and in opposition to our efforts to place a moratorium on all factory farms. 

But there’s a problem: it isn’t true. After we pressured Oregon officials to shut Lost Valley down, we didn’t have to wait long to see how untrue it really was. The very next operator to attempt to open a dairy on the same site also couldn’t follow the rules and was mired in scandal. With an industry as powerful and profit-hungry as factory farming, cutting corners and generating harmful pollution is the norm.  

Learn more about our years-long quest to stop the Lost Valley Farms and Easterday Mega-dairies!

2. Existing regulations just aren’t enough to protect us

Air and climate pollution from factory farms is totally unregulated and water rules are failing to prevent pollution and unsustainable extraction. For example, recent well tests at Threemile Canyon Farms, the state’s largest mega-dairy, show nitrate contamination in some wells reaching several times the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s limit for safe drinking water.

3. Eastern Oregon has become a mega-dairy sacrifice zone. 

For decades, state officials swept the nitrate pollution plaguing eastern Oregon under the rug. They know that levels of nitrates far exceeded the federal EPA safe drinking water standards. Yet, they have failed to take any meaningful action to protect people’s health and drinking water.

This has devastating consequences for neighboring communities, whose health is being sacrificed for corporate profits. And though the EPA has finally started paying attention in response to citizen demands, many people continue to wait for clean, safe drinking water.

4. It’s not just mega-dairies, and factory farms aren’t only in eastern Oregon. 

Oregon’s weak regulations make it attractive to factory farm operators who are constantly looking for new places to set up shop. Just two years ago, Foster Farms, a California corporation, proposed a number of huge chicken factory farms in the Willamette Valley. 

The Willamette Valley is already home to the state’s largest egg factory farm (which confines over one million chickens) and a number of mega-dairies. What’s more, the Southern Willamette Valley, like Eastern Oregon, is home to a Groundwater Management Area designated due to nitrate contamination. 

5. The industry throws around a lot of money to influence our elected officials. 

The factory farm lobby amasses political power through campaign contributions in Oregon and across the country. Tillamook and Threemile Canyon alone, along with their PACs, have given over $450,0001FWW analysis of data from the Oregon Secretary of State Elections Division. to state legislators and their campaigns since 2021. 

Later this year, we’ll release more information about how Big Ag uses money to influence our elected officials. And in the meantime, we’ll continue building people power to compel legislators to choose us, their constituents, over wealthy donors. 

6. Elected officials from both sides of the aisle are smitten with false solutions like factory farm gas. 

Also called biogas, factory farm gas is a fuel made from capturing methane emitted by manure cesspools. But despite what the factory farm and gas industries claim, it won’t solve the climate crisis. In reality, it’s a scam that only further entrenches factory farms by creating a market for the enormous amounts of waste they generate. 

Yet many of Oregon’s elected officials are buying into this pipe dream, lavishing biogas digesters with financial incentives. Some legislators are even taking cushy trips overseas to tour biogas facilities, bankrolled by gas utility NW Natural. 

7. Big Ag wants you to think our efforts will put small farmers out of business. 

This is completely false. The reality is that these factory farms aren’t the farms of the past. There’s no red barn with cows grazing on pasture. These are industrial factories with animals that rarely see the light of day. 

Big Ag doesn’t want you to see the reality of a factory farm, so they make yesterday’s bucolic family farm the poster child of their advertising and legislative opposition. Don’t fall for it — nothing could be further from the truth.

8. Senate Bill 85, which passed in the 2023 legislative session, contains important reforms that will help to protect Oregon’s communities and environment from factory farm pollution. 

By temporarily stopping unchecked water withdrawals for new operations, strengthening some water quality requirements, and restoring some measure of local control, this bill will significantly improve how factory farms are regulated. The passage of SB 85 was possible because of an outpouring of community support, strategic organizing, and efforts by the Stand Up to Factory Farms coalition — showing that when we stand together, we win. 

9. People are better protected from factory farms when local leaders are empowered to make decisions about issues that affect their communities. 

SB 85 also enabled local elected officials to enact required setbacks of a certain distance between factory farms and other buildings. This has the potential to protect homes, schools, and businesses from factory farms. 

After Linn County residents made clear they were deeply opposed to factory farm proposals in their community, county commissioners made use of their new authority to enact one-mile setbacks. These setbacks stopped a number of proposed chicken factory farms from setting up shop. 

10. Oregonians don’t like factory farms, and our work is not yet finished. 

The outpouring of support for a factory farm moratorium bill in 2023 demonstrated that people from all corners of our state care about this issue — and they want to see legislative action. Oregonians realize we must prioritize protecting our climate, our air and water, and our special places. 

While passing SB 85 was a huge win, it is nowhere near enough to protect our state from the buildout of factory farms. What Oregon truly needs is to stop factory farms and reinvest in a more sustainable food and farm system that puts rural communities, family-scale farms, and our shared resources first.

We are ready to continue to fight for the change we need — and the future we deserve. Our climate, air, and water can’t wait. It is time for our elected officials to take bold action to stop factory farms and protect Oregon’s communities from this industry. 

We can and must do better, and this week we’re taking our fight to the governor’s office. Come join us! Sign our petition, and then join us to hand deliver petition signatures to Governor Kotek on Friday, June 28. 

Check out more opportunities to join our Oregon week of action June 23 – June 28!

FACTORY FARMS MAKE US SICK

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