Our Lawsuit Pushes EPA to Finally Act on Factory Farm Pollution

Categories

Food SystemClean Water

by Emily Miller

Factory farming is a seriously messy business that has caused water pollution problems across the country. These industrial livestock operations generate mountains of waste, wreaking havoc on the environment and ecosystems. They also pollute public waterways and drinking water sources at dangerous levels, jeopardizing public health. 

These threats prompted Food & Water Watch to file a rulemaking petition with the EPA, urging the agency to strengthen its clean water rules for factory farms (also called concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs). 

But nearly six years later, the EPA has done nothing about it, while communities continue to suffer from the pollution of this largely unregulated industry. The EPA’s complete failure to act is unacceptable — and it’s illegal. So we took them to court.

EPA’s Approach to CAFO Water Pollution is Broken. We Know How To Fix It. 

For decades, the EPA’s lax approach to factory farms has allowed the industry to freely pollute our waterways. The Clean Water Act clearly defines CAFOs as “point sources” of pollution. This should require them to follow discharge permits restricting their discharges into rivers and streams. 

But due to the EPA’s weak regulations, only a small fraction of factory farms have the required permits. In fact, the agency itself estimates there are nearly 10,000 Large CAFOs nationwide illegally discharging without a Clean Water Act permit. 

Even the permits that do exist are weak and don’t adequately protect water quality. For instance, these permits only limit nutrient and pathogen pollution, commonly associated with animal manure. But factory farm waste is not just manure; it contains many other pollutants of concern, such as antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, pesticides, and heavy metals. 

Moreover, EPA allows CAFOs to dump huge quantities of untreated waste onto cropland — even when no crops are growing. This risks dangerous waste seeping into the soil and running off into streams. 

Our 2017 petition details how the EPA’s regulation of factory farms has failed to protect waterways and communities, and it urges the EPA to strengthen its lax approach. It also provides a roadmap for the EPA to make permits stronger and more effective and close loopholes that have enabled CAFOs to avoid regulation. 

Though the EPA itself admits that its current rules don’t effectively stem the tide of factory farm water pollution, it has refused to answer the petition. 

The agency’s failure to respond violates the Administrative Procedure Act. This law requires agencies like the EPA to respond to petitions “within a reasonable time.” Federal courts count a reasonable time for agency action in weeks or months, not years — and certainly not over half a decade.

Our Lawsuit Will Force EPA to Respond And Give Voice to Those Affected

Agency delay is especially outrageous when public health is at stake. Communities across the country are suffering the impacts of factory farm pollution. 

For example, take Nancy Utesch who lives in rural Wisconsin surrounded by 16 dairy CAFOs. Her community relies on well water for drinking, but dairy waste has fouled the region’s groundwater. Leaching out of manure lagoons and overapplied to cropland, the waste’s nitrate and e. Coli pollution has made the water unsafe to drink. 

This pollution has sickened countless people in Nancy’s area. She told the court how manure runoff got into a community member’s well, poisoning his entire family. It nearly killed his infant child, who needed treatment in intensive care.

Meanwhile, in South Dakota, David Gillespie used to farm a small plot of land directly downstream from a cattle factory farm. According to David, during heavy rains, factory farm runoff would flow downhill and into the creek running through his property. One day, he fell into this polluted water, just for a few moments. 

But at the time, David had an open blister “smaller than a penny” on his foot. When exposed to the contaminated water, the blister turned into an ulcerous wound. He was eventually rushed to the emergency room and diagnosed with a severe blood infection. 

David spent over a month in the hospital recovering from the near fatal infection, and needed surgery to repair the mutilated bone in his foot. This experience still impacts his health and ability to walk to this day, nearly four years later. 

Until EPA Acts on Factory Farm Pollution, Rural Communities Won’t Be Safe

Without EPA action, factory farm pollution will continue to threaten communities like Nancy’s and David’s. That’s why Food & Water Watch challenged EPA’s unreasonable delay in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. We’ve asked the court to intervene and order the agency to finally respond to the 2017 petition. 

If the EPA grants all or part of the petition, it must finally start updating its CAFO rules. If it denies the petition and continues to let this industry off the hook, we can challenge that decision in court.

Either way, we won’t stop until the EPA finally holds this industry accountable for its devastating impact on people and the planet.

With your support, our legal team fights for stronger water protections for communities across the country.

Congress Confirms: Smithfield Lied. We Won’t Let Them Get Away With It.

Categories

Food System

Photo CC-BY-FARMWATCH_FLKR
by Emily Miller

Last month, Congress’s explosive report revealed how the country’s largest meatpackers lied to the public and endangered their workers. The companies, including pork giant Smithfield Foods, falsely claimed meat shortages. Then they aggressively lobbied the federal government to keep plants running with “glaringly deficient” safety protocols, despite the terrible risk to workers’ lives. 

The report’s findings are truly disturbing. But sadly, they are not surprising. In fact, we’ve known that Smithfield was lying from the start, which is why we sued the company last year. Unbelievably, just two days after Congress released its findings, Smithfield demanded that the court dismiss our case. They argued our detailed allegations have no merit — a bold position in the wake of the Congressional report. The investigation documents in painstaking detail just how egregious Smithfield’s lies were. See for yourself — here are just a few excerpts exposing Smithfield’s central role in drumming up panic and endangering workers:  

Lie #1: That we were “Perilously Close to the Edge in Terms of our Nation’s Meat Supply.”

“While meatpacking companies—Smithfield and Tyson in particular—asserted that reduced plant operations and worker absenteeism were making the food supply chain ‘vulnerable,’ documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee suggest that this narrative lacked any basis in fact and show that others in the industry believed it was false. For example, on April 12, 2020, Smithfield CEO Ken Sullivan issued a public statement admonishing that the closure of one of its plants was ‘pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our [nation’s] meat supply,’ and would have ‘severe, perhaps disastrous, repercussions for many in the supply chain.’ But just three days later, Smithfield asked their industry representatives to issue a statement that ‘there was plenty of meat, enough that it was [sic] for them to export,’ while Smithfield simultaneously was ‘tell[ing] importers they have enough meat.’ When discussing Sullivan’s statements about the meat supply, meatpacking industry representatives described it as ‘intentionally scaring people,’ ‘whipp[ing] everyone into a frenzy,’ and creating a ‘mess’ that others would have to ‘clean up.’ When meatpacking industry representatives inquired into where any actual shortages were occurring, they were unable to find any.” 

Lie #2: That Smithfield has “done everything possible to protect employee health and safety.”

“When meatpacking companies’ attempts to stifle state and local health department regulation did not yield sufficiently comprehensive results, Smithfield and Tyson conceived of a ‘federal directive’ that would ensure state and local health authorities were powerless to impose coronavirus health and safety precautions in the plants. The meatpacking companies drafted and pitched an executive order to the Trump White House, which promptly issued it after less than a week of review and revision. The final order that was eventually issued adopted the themes and statutory directive laid out in the meatpacking industry’s draft, invoking the Defense Production Act (DPA) to ensure meatpacking plants ‘continue operations.’”

“Meatpacking companies and USDA officials sought the ‘critical infrastructure’ designation without first attempting to address the glaringly deficient coronavirus precautions in plants. This conduct is particularly egregious considering that, as discussed above, the nation’s meat supply was not actually at risk.”

Lie #3: That Smithfield wasn’t “unwilling to implement worker protections for the sake of profits.”

The truth is, Smithfield was unwilling from the beginning. They avoided implementing worker protections and worked with federal agencies to keep avoiding them throughout the pandemic. Congress reports that:

“Emails obtained by the Select Subcommittee and statements given during transcribed interviews show that meatpacking companies communicated regularly with USDA regarding USDA’s discussions with CDC and OSHA about coronavirus mitigation guidance and recommendations to ensure they would allow plants to continue operating without critical science-based prevention and mitigation measures.” 

One such example centered on an “outbreak [that] occurred in April 2020 in Smithfield’s Sioux Falls, South Dakota plant, which left at least 900 workers infected and two workers dead. When CDC issued recommendations to address the coronavirus outbreak in the facility, the recommendations included precatory language and qualifiers that effectively made the guidance optional for Smithfield. It later came to light that the CDC recommendations had been watered down from an earlier draft that lacked these types of qualifiers.” 

“Internal meatpacking company documents obtained by the Select Subcommittee now illustrate how these edits came about—namely, that Smithfield intercepted the draft CDC recommendations, provided extensive comments to CDC, USDA, and the South Dakota Governor’s office, and ultimately succeeded in having CDC water them down before being issued.” 

“Even though the guidance had been significantly watered down per Smithfield’s efforts, CEO Ken Sullivan said upon its release that ‘this is worse than nothing’ and a ‘Middle finger from govt.’”

“Smithfield’s changes to CDC’s recommendations had potentially dire consequences for Smithfield’s workers. During the first year of the pandemic, Smithfield saw 9,666 worker infections and 25 worker deaths. Smithfield’s lethal role in weakening federal meatpacking worker protections was not limited to its own employees. The company’s lobbying efforts with respect to the Sioux Falls recommendations carried over into shaping CDC/OSHA guidance for all federally-inspected meatpacking plants.”

What’s Our Next Step?

Our legal team is fighting Smithfield’s attempt to dismiss our case. We won’t let it stop the court from deciding for itself whether Smithfield’s pandemic statements were unlawfully false and misleading. Armed with Congress’ findings, we are confident we can overcome Smithfield’s meritless arguments. Once we do, we will start demanding the company turn over relevant records and witnesses. That’ll allow us to continue building our case and expose Smithfield’s lies for what they are.

We’re holding Smithfield accountable. Help us spread the word.

Why Did The EPA Give Factory Farms A Free Pass With Air Pollution?

Categories

Food System

By Emily Miller

The Biden administration talks a big game when it comes to protecting the environment. On his first day in office, President Biden signed an executive order to hold polluters accountable for toxic air pollution. Unfortunately, these policies don’t seem to apply to Big Ag. When it comes to factory farm pollution, Biden’s EPA has quietly preserved a George W. Bush-era policy that does the opposite. It continues a corrupt amnesty deal for factory farms that shields them from complying with federal air pollution laws. 

Enough is enough. As part of a coalition of advocacy organizations, we recently called the Administration out on its hypocrisy. On October 26, we filed a legal petition with EPA urging it to end this 16-year-old amnesty agreement. They must enforce our clean air laws against this major polluting industry.

Factory Farm Air Pollution Kills Thousands of People Every Year in the U.S.

This decades-long amnesty has had far-reaching consequences for public health and the environment. Factory farms emit deadly air pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and climate-warming methane. They put nearby residents — often low-income communities of color — at risk for serious illnesses, like asthma and pneumonia. 

Even worse, the livestock industry’s air pollution is responsible for over 12,700 deaths per year. That’s more deaths than are attributed to coal-fired power plants. That means over 200,000 lives have been lost due to this industry’s air pollution since 2005. 

Despite Serious Threat To Public Health, EPA Has Given Factory Farms a Free Pass To Pollute Since 2005

In 2005, the George W. Bush administration announced an agreement it had secretly negotiated with the pork lobby. EPA would refrain from enforcing key air pollution control and public transparency laws like the Clean Air Act against animal feeding operations (AFO) that signed up for the deal. In exchange, the AFOs agreed to pay a small fee to fund a nationwide air monitoring program to help EPA develop more accurate air emissions estimating methodologies (EEMs) for AFOs. These were supposed to help calculate factory farms’ pollution so clean air law enforcement could finally begin. 

At the time, environmentalists challenged the legality of this agreement, arguing it was an abdication of EPA’s enforcement authority. However, the D.C. Circuit Court allowed EPA to proceed. Their decision partly relied on the agency’s assurances that the “limited” deferral would last no longer than three and half years. 

Nearly 14,000 AFOs nationwide signed up for this sweetheart deal. By EPA’s own estimate, this accounted for over 90 percent of the country’s largest factory farms. The industry has grown significantly since 2005, but EPA has used the agreement as an excuse not to regulate the industry at large until it develops accurate EEMs.  

EPA Dropped The Ball, Exposing Communities To Air Pollution  

EPA promised to complete the air monitoring study, develop emission models, and end the Air Consent Agreement by 2010. But a series of agency missteps and delays means EPA has yet to finalize any methodologies or end the agreement. 

From the start, fundamental problems plagued the emission methodologies development process. From how EPA designed and ran the study, to how it attempted to use the data, it was a mess. For instance, close to 14,000 AFOs signed the Air Consent Agreement. But EPA selected just 20 AFOs in 10 states to study, an incredibly small, and non-representative industry sample. This, along with equipment failures and other technical problems, limited EPA’s ability to develop accurate emission models. 

When EPA used this compromised data to develop draft methodologies, the drafts were deemed utterly unusable by the scientific community. Even EPA’s own Science Advisory Board lambasted the emission models. It concluded they were unfit for national use, and incapable of predicting emissions beyond the small number of farms studied. In short — garbage in, garbage out.

After that, EPA efforts completely stalled. It wasn’t until 2017, when EPA’s Office of Inspector General criticized EPA for its inaction, that the development process restarted. But this revived process hasn’t fared any better. Now, after nearly five more years of delay, EPA has still not finalized any methodologies. It has largely ignored advice it received from its Science Advisory Board about how to produce accurate emission models.

Meanwhile, thousands of AFOs enjoy protection from EPA enforcement indefinitely, even if their emissions exceed legal limits or reporting thresholds. EPA’s unwillingness to cross Big Ag is the same under Biden, and people are paying with their health and their lives.

EPA’s Inaction Is Unacceptable And Must End Now

AFO air pollution has serious and unregulated public health impacts. We are demanding EPA put a stop to its unacceptable dereliction of duty. It must terminate the Air Consent Agreement, and take all actions consistent with President Biden’s executive orders to enforce applicable clean air laws against AFOs. 

The agency never should have granted this amnesty in the first place. After nearly twenty years of this mistake, it absolutely must put an end to this perpetual license to pollute.

Your friends need to know about this, too.

Our Smithfield Lawsuit Exposes Lies About Meat Shortages And Worker Safety

Categories

Food System

by Emily Miller

Of all the dark truths the pandemic has exposed about our society and food system, meatpacking companies’ greed and shocking disregard for workers’ health and safety makes our blood boil the most. And one corporation, in particular, has repeatedly and egregiously lied to the public throughout the crisis to protect its bottom line: Smithfield Foods. 

Food & Water Watch Sues Smithfield For Misleading Claims

At the height of the pandemic, slaughterhouses became ground zero for massive COVID-19 outbreaks. Thousands of meatpacking workers across the country contracted the virus — in some cases, even forcing plants to temporarily shut down. The crisis not only exposed the vulnerability of a food system controlled by a few powerful and highly consolidated corporations, but also accelerated nationwide transmission of the virus.  

Enough is enough. Last week, Food & Water Watch brought suit against the multinational meat processing company on behalf of the general public for its violations of the District of Columbia’s consumer protection law, which prohibits corporate bad actors from lying to consumers for profit. Our Executive Director Wenonah Hauter explains why:

“Corporations like Smithfield routinely choose profit over people. The company utterly failed to protect its workers as the coronavirus spread like wildfire throughout its meat processing facilities, and its fear mongering about meat shortages was designed to exploit consumer panic and boost sales. Smithfield put workers’ lives at risk all in the name of corporate greed and turned already notoriously dangerous workplaces into deadly ones.” 

Smithfield’s False Advertising Campaign Duped Consumers

Our complaint lists in detail the numerous and specific false claims Smithfield has peddled to consumers and the general public about its pandemic response. Here’s a summary of what our lawsuit alleges:

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Smithfield has mounted a distinctly aggressive public relations campaign geared toward leveraging the pandemic to increase its profits. Through advertisements, social media statements, and website representations, Smithfield has adopted a two-step press offensive to mislead consumers and salvage its image — and its bottom line.

First, Smithfield has misrepresented to consumers that a countrywide meat shortage was imminent. This fear-mongering is designed to create a revenue-generating feedback loop; It stokes and exploits consumer panic, in turn causing demand for Smithfield’s meat products to surge.

Second, Smithfield has misrepresented working conditions in its plants in an effort to allay heightened consumer concerns for worker safety. Line-level meatpacking workers, in part due to false fears of a meat shortage, have been required to work in person throughout the pandemic — often in cramped conditions on crowded production lines. Smithfield has repeatedly assured consumers through advertisements and a comprehensive social media campaign that the company is keeping its workers safe. Indeed, the company has prominently featured workplace safety as an integral part of its marketing and branding efforts during the pandemic. 

Here are two facts that are important to understand so that Smithfield is held accountable. 

FACT: OUR MEAT SUPPLY WAS NEVER IN DANGER

However, Smithfield’s messaging could not be further from the truth. To stoke fears of a meat shortage, Smithfield gravely warned American consumers in April 2020 that the nation was “perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply.” But at the same time, Smithfield’s foreign exports were surging — with multiple studies showing the company’s pork exports to China hitting record highs that same month. Government data further refute Smithfield’s doom-and-gloom warnings, showing that pork inventory held in “cold storage” warehouses was well into the hundreds of millions of pounds, which analysts have estimated could have kept grocery stores stocked with pork for months, even without any additional production. 

FACT: THE LIVES OF SMITHFIELD WORKERS WERE AT RISK

Smithfield’s reassurances on workplace safety were equally deceptive. On this score, Smithfield’s track record speaks for itself, with company slaughterhouses repeatedly emerging as epicenters for COVID-19 outbreaks. Moreover, Smithfield’s representations to consumers regarding specific workplace safety protocols — depicted in detailed photographs, videos, and promotional copy amplified through Smithfield’s website and social media accounts — are consistently refuted by safety citations issued by government regulators and the accounts of actual Smithfield workers.

In all, Smithfield chose to leverage the pandemic to its advantage. Its PR team loudly beat the drum on issues of enormous significance, exploiting consumers’ fears about meat shortages and calming their concerns about workplace safety. And while the company’s campaign on these fronts has no doubt helped it profit, it is built on a series of egregious misrepresentations, deceptions, and falsehoods. 

What Happens If We Win?

If the court agrees that Smithfield’s repeated and frequent misrepresentations violated D.C.’s consumer protection law, it could not only order Smithfield to publicly retract its lies, but also pay a penalty for its deceit. 

Help our attorneys make Smithfield pay for its pandemic falsehoods!

We’re Suing EPA (Again) For Being Too Soft on Factory Farm Polluters

Categories

Food System

by Emily Miller

For years, EPA has maintained incredibly lax water pollution standards for factory farms, also known as concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs. It’s not because these operations don’t pollute — they generate millions upon millions of gallons of waste every year. Nor is it because this pollution isn’t finding its way into waterways — it is, where it poses a substantial threat to public health and ecosystems. Yet every year since 2008, EPA has decided to sit back and do next to nothing about it. 

Not only is that just plain wrong, but it’s also against the law. So we’re taking EPA to court. 

Why Food & Water Watch is Bringing This Suit Against EPA

Our lawsuit challenges EPA’s bogus review of its factory farm pollution standards, which led the agency to decide that all was well and that no revisions or updates were needed. The Clean Water Act requires EPA to annually review these standards, known as “effluent limitations guidelines,” and to strengthen the guidelines if EPA finds they are not effectively controlling the industry’s pollution. 

EPA’s current CAFO guidelines only apply to the very largest of operations, do not attempt in any way to address the antibiotics, hormones, or chemical cleaning solutions found in CAFO waste streams, and allow manure storage and disposal practices that simply worsen water quality problems. For instance, CAFO operators are allowed to store millions of gallons of liquid manure in structures that are designed to—and often do—leak. And once those manure pits are full, EPA allows operators to apply this waste to fields in ways, and at quantities, that are known to harm water quality. 

But here’s the overarching problem: EPA’s so-called “review” of these guidelines relied on pollution monitoring data that CAFO operators self-report to the agency, but EPA does not require CAFOs to monitor the pollutants they discharge into waterways at all. (By the way, EPA’s failure to require CAFO pollution monitoring is also illegal, and we’re suing them for that too). Needless to say, if EPA doesn’t require CAFOs to monitor their pollution, then the sparse pollution monitoring data that EPA reviewed is not an accurate representation of the industry’s polluting impacts. Not by a longshot. In essence, EPA has created a feedback loop that insulates the industry — and insulates itself from having to issue more protective regulations.

To add insult to injury, EPA’s cherry-picked review ignored a veritable mountain of evidence demonstrating the inadequacy of its current guidelines. Numerous studies, including an EPA-authored report, have established that agricultural activities, including CAFOs, are one of the “leading known sources” of surface water pollution in the United States, and that manure is responsible for a significant share of that pollution. 

If We Win, EPA Will be Forced to Reconsider Its Hands-off Approach to CAFO Pollution 

As it stands, there are thousands of factory farms across the country producing vast quantities of manure containing pollutants like E. coli, nitrogen, phosphorus, pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals, which are regularly discharged into waterways relied on for drinking water and recreation. 

If the court agrees that EPA failed to conduct an appropriate review of these ineffective guidelines, the agency will have to reconsider its untenable position that the standards are fine the way they are. The facts are clear — proper review will show that more stringent national standards are required to protect water quality. 

EPA has let factory farms off the hook for their water pollution for decades — join us in campaigning in the courts and in communities to finally hold EPA and this polluting industry accountable!

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