Ulla Kjarval and Adriana Velez

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Save Family Dairy Farmers

In Food Chain, Food System, Policy, Uncategorized on June 28, 2010 at 2:25 pm

dairy antitrustFairmAid and CREDO have joined together to draft a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder to follow through on ongoing investigations of anticompetitive conduct in the dairy industry and to investigate the antitrust allegations outlined in pending lawsuits filed against DFA, Dean Foods, among others. Please read and sign the letter here.


Letter from farmer Ken Jaffe in response to the threat gas drilling poses to NYC’s food shed.

In Farmer's Concerns, Food Chain, Food System, Policy, Uncategorized on June 21, 2010 at 12:56 pm

Ken Jaffe is a grass-fed beef farmer in Meredith, NY
Hello all,

Tune into “Gasland” on HBO Monday June 21st at 9pm.

Folks in NYC may be feeling secure about gas drilling, and lulled into silence about the threat. After all, NY State has bowed to pressure from the City and decided there will be no drilling for methane gas in the NYC Watershed. You should not feel secure, because gas drilling will poison your food shed.

You should understand that the industrialization and pollution of rural upstate New York will kill the production of organic and sustainable food in this region.  The area of food production is almost all outside the NYC Watershed, and vulnerable. Massive amounts of toxins will be pumped into our aquifers and air. These hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds, known carcinogens and endocrine disrupters, are pumped into the ground in massive quantities in the drilling process, and released into the air from evaporation tanks.

The gas and oil industry is relying on your silence so they will be unopposed. Their current plans are for 8-10 wells per square mile, pumping billions of gallons of toxic water into the ground. They will pollute the air and water of a large region that represents most of NY State food shed, directly threatening the agricultural base that you rely upon for your food. This includes the western Catskills, across the Finger Lakes to western NY. Most of Pennsylvania is also under the gun.

Pollution of water, air and food from the gas drilling industry is exempt from all federal pollution laws, thanks to Dick Cheney’s 2005 Energy Policy Act, and its “Halliburton Exemption”. Incredibly, gas drillers can pollute without regard to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, or the Clear Air Act.  For instance, it is legal for gas drilling to cause drinking water to contain high levels of carcinogens like benzene that violate the Safe Drinking Water Act  because the Safe Drinking Water Act simply does not apply if gas drilling is the cause. With state of affairs, the public and the environment have been defenseless against gas drillers (who are one and the same as the oil drillers).  They have used the cover of this exemption to ruin the air, water, and landscape of large swaths of several western states, and are now moving east.

I am not prone to overstatement about health issues, but it is hard to express the magnitude of this treat in a short email. On a personal level, if gas drilling occurs in our area, I cannot image Slope Farms surviving. We simply will not be able to produce food that you will want to eat because of the toxins in the water that our cattle drink (and my family  drinks as well), and the massive pollution of our air.  This assessment is shared the many producers of sustainable agricultural products with whom I’ve spoken.

As a result of contamination of drinking water from gas drilling in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Wyoming, and air in Texas, the US EPA has finally begun to  study the risks. There is proposed legislation at the federal and state level that would more closely regulate gas drilling. There is a proposal in NY State for a moratorium on drilling until the EPA can complete its study of the risks.  But none of this legislation currently  has enough  support to pass. So public awareness and pressure is critical. But it is doubtful that the current form of gas drilling (“hydrofracking”) with its injection of massive quantities of water and toxins in the ground can be done safely, even with regulation.

“Gasland” is a documentary on gas drilling. It will premier on HBO June 21 at 9pm. It is a 2010 Sundance Documentary Prize winner. It will give you new knowledge of this industry and its threats. You should see it. You should tell your friends. This industry is powerful, and has a track record of ruthlessness.  We need an informed public that is vocal to protect our food and water.



Ken Jaffe

Slope Farms

Meredith, NY

Letter From New State Resident Meredith Grosshandler, In Opposition to the Proposed CAFO

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2010 at 6:16 pm

I recently learned that a large-scale concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) may soon be built in central NY.  According to the company’s Dec. 14, 2009 press release, Bion Environmental Technologies, Inc., has received the support of the Oswego County town of Schroeppel, NY, to proceed with plans for a 72,000-cow, 6-barn, beef CAFO with associated ethanol production and beef processing plants.  In Bion’s own words, this operation will be the “largest individual cattle livestock facility east of the Mississippi River.”

After a fair amount of research into this planned “Project” (as Bion refers to it), I am writing you today to urge you to stand against it in any and every capacity possible.  I realize that you do not represent the district in which this CAFO is planned, but the effects of such an operation are wide-reaching, and have real potential to negatively impact every NY district, and far beyond.

Some of the more pressing concerns about this proposed CAFO are:

    1. Bion is touting the project as “environmentally sustainable.”  This is misleading the public, however, because the operation will still require massive amounts of fossil fuels (for shipping, energy, etc.) and environmentally damaging land use (for corn crops, etc.), and the long-term detrimental effects of this sort of livestock operation on the environment are far worse than grazing/finishing cattle by rotation on grass pastures.  Just because something is less bad does not make it a good idea, especially when far better options do exist.
    2. According to its press release, Bion plans to market its beef products as “local” within a 300-mile radius of the facility.  Aside from the glaring fact that describing a market circle encompassing more than 282,000 square miles as “local” is far beyond appropriate, this is problematic because it creates unfair competition for truly local independent farmers actually raising cattle in truly environmentally responsible ways.
    3. Also, while Bion trumpets the company’s plan to market its product as “local” within their 300-mile radius in its press release, this presents a problematic contrast to the response Bion gave on a Citizens’ Q&A forum last year (when the same CAFO project was being considered for a St. Lawrence County location).  When a citizen inquired about the possibility of increased access to local beef, Bion responded that “[Bion] has not represented that its output will be sold within St. Lawrence County.”  It seems that Bion tells people what it thinks will benefit the company the most at the time.
    4. As mentioned above, Bion had been courting St. Lawrence County for essentially the same CAFO “Project” last year, but abruptly backed out due to concerns over whether they would be able to properly finance the situation amid the economic crisis.  This, in and of itself, raises questions about Bion’s ability to fund a project of this magnitude.  Additionally, Bion originally stated that it would return to the project in St. Lawrence County when the credit markets loosened up, but in actuality Bion abandoned SLC and moved on Oswego County with no explanation.  This only raises more questions about the company’s ways of doing business.
    5. Bion advertises that they expect the creation of between 300 and 600 jobs from its proposed Oswego County CAFO project.  This may sound very enticing, but we must think beyond the short-term and consider how many small, independent cattle farms will be negatively impacted in the long-term in that huge 300-mile radius due to the unfair competition from a corporate giant deceptively representing itself as local and sustainable.
    6. Bion has indicated that it will attempt to obtain any local, state, or federal assistance available to the company on the basis of its self-professed environmental sustainability.   However, again, this will only reduce the amount of funding available to those independent farmers who are truly trying to raise cattle in a healthful and environmentally responsibly manner.
    7. Bion has never implemented its proposed technology on a scale even close to the proposed project’s size.  In fact, the operation on which Bion is modeling its 72,000 head CAFO proposal is a 1200-cow dairy operation in Texas.  That means that their proposed CAFO operation in Schroeppel is sixty times larger than the model, involves a different product (beef instead of dairy), and is to be implemented in a radically different climate.
    8. Bion’s plan hinges on what it refers to as its “closed-loop integrated technology platform,” in which corn byproducts (called WDGS) from the ethanol production process would be a large part of the cows’ finishing diet.  Yet recent independent studies (including studies conducted by the USDA) have indicated that cattle fed WDGS harbor higher concentrations of harmful e. coli bacteria, which translates to increased risk of contamination and human sickness or death.
    9. Current research has also shown that meat from cows fed WDGS has a higher fat content (including trans fats) and less visual appeal on the retail market.  Additionally, diets high in WDGS have been shown to cause polioencephalomalacia in cattle, an acutely fatal condition often seen in “downer cows” that causes the cow to become disoriented, go blind, stare skyward, and repeatedly ram its head against walls or other hard objects.
    10. It is worth noting that the research mentioned above all compares meat from cows fed WDGS to that from cattle fed just corn, but remember that it is now widely known that even meat from cattle finished on corn alone is significantly less healthful than meat from cattle finished on natural grasses.  Feedlot/corn finishing is also known to be much worse for the cows’ health, as well as for the environment, when compared to cattle grazed on rotated natural grass pastures and finished on grass too.

      The points listed above are just some of the many reasons why Bion’s “Project” is not a good idea for New York (or anywhere, for that matter).  What we need in this state is a network of independently operated, small-scale, reliable, USDA inspected slaughterhouses to accommodate the honest, local, responsible farmers of the state without unreasonably long wait times or preferential treatment for Big Ag corporate farms.  What New York State does NOT need is Bion’s CAFO.  Therefore I respectfully request that, should the opportunity present itself, you vote in the best interest of the good people of New York by voting AGAINST Bion’s CAFO project.

      Meredith Grosshandler is a native of the Northeast.  She spent her adolescence playing in the mountains and farm meadows of southwestern Vermont and Washington County, New York.  Although she now lives in Albany, her childhood experiences continue to influence her daily life.  As a product of nature herself, she advocates respectful and responsible cohabitation with all of nature’s other creations.

      A Local Farmer’s Perspective On Having a 72,000 Head Cattle CAFO Next Door

      In Farmer's Concerns, Food Chain, Food System, Policy, Uncategorized on May 5, 2010 at 2:10 pm

      If proposed plant goes through the Port of Oswego would become a hub for corn shipped in from the Mid-West.

      Karen Hall and her family are farmers in Upstate, NY and live in the town where a proposed mega cattle finishing facility is planned to be built. The company behind the project have already received town board approval but as Karen Hall, points out in her interview, there are many unfortunate risks that need to be looked into before such a large project is undertaken. To think that such a large amount of cattle (about 72,000) would be so close to a populated area with vital rivers is enough to rethink this new plant. It is always refreshing and important to hear from local residents and farmers.

      You are fighting the proposed cattle finishing facility and ethanol plant in your community.  Can you tell me a bit about yourself and why you are fighting this?

      My name is Karen Hall.  My family owns a horse breeding operation and we are very concerned about the ramifications of this project for many reasons.  If there are diseased animals (which is inevitable with facilities of this type) all animals within a certain radius will need to be destroyed.  This would obviously devastate our family business.  There are several restaurants and stores in the vicinity that would be negatively affected as well.

      Can you tell me about your community and how you think it will be impacted by a facility of this size?

      Schroeppel is surrounded by three rivers, many aquifers and it is roughly a half an hour south of Lake Ontario. It has been hoped that fishing and tourism would be a draw for our area. A facility such as this would certainly not be conducive to attracting tourists.  There really is no place this plant could be situated where it will not affect the water supply.  A large portion of residents in this area rely on well water and there are serious concerns that our water supply will be contaminated by the plant.

      How do you think this proposed CAFO would impact NYS’s greater agricultural community?

      One of the reasons they have chosen this area is to utilize the Port of Oswego to ship supplies in and product out.  They have already indicated that they will have to ship corn and other supplies in, so in reality local farmers will really not benefit greatly from them buying feed and hay, etc. from them.  I truly think on every level possible, smaller, well-run farms that cater to the local economy are much better for the animals, the environment and people who live in the vicinity.  Huge facilities such as this have horrendous conditions for animals and workers, ravage the environment and destroy local infrastructure.   Also, the technology that Bion is proposing to use is not even proven yet.  The residents of Schroeppel and the surrounding areas have no desire to be guinea pigs for this technology and ruin our property values and quality of life in the process.

      It seems that Bion Industries wants to cash in on government subsidies and might be seeking infrastructural support from local governments.  Do you have any concerns about this?

      Absolutely.  As a matter of fact, in Meade, Nebraska a similar project was built and closed within eight months.  The company got all of the subsidies, the farmers and those who provided services were not paid and the local government was left to figure out what to do with the closed plant.  The amount of traffic that this project would bring would be detrimental to all surrounding areas.  Other smaller projects have been declined because our infrastructure could not support it, so how could it possibly support a project of this size?

      St. Lawrence County was successful at stopping a similar project, have they been helpful to you? What have you learned?

      They have been very helpful.  They have done amazing research and allowed us to use it on our website.  The main difference though was they were able to present the facts to the Town Board before it was voted on.  Once the Town Board saw how the negatives far out way the positives, they voted to not allow the project.  Here in Schroeppel, the Town Board voted to allow Bion to move forward without extensive public input, so we have a different political battle on our hands.

      How are you fighting this plant?

      Currently, we are bringing it to the attention of the public.  Due to the way it was handled, people in the area really are not even aware of the project.  We are writing Letters To The Editor, designing posters, flyers and postcards, starting a petition and we have a website that has all of the information and research for the project.  Our goal is for people to educate themselves.  Once they do that, it is very easy to see this is not a benefit to our community.  We are also encouraging people to attend the Town Board meetings so we can have our concerns addressed.  In addition, this plant will certainly will not only affect Schroeppel, so we have contacted surrounding Town Boards so they are aware of the situation as well.

      Is there a Facebook page or website where people can visit to learn about your efforts and to express their concerns?

      Yes, there is a Facebook Group (Phoenix Talks: Slaughterhouse Project. Get informed, get involved!)
      and a My Space page where we post when our meetings will be, etc.  Our website www.phoenixtalks.com really is a clearinghouse for information.  We want people to go there to read about the project and write what they think about it so Bion and the Town Board understand the depth of the concerns of citizens.

      Is there any way the citizens of New York State can help and support you in your fight?

      Yes, please contact your NYS and federal representatives and tell them to not support subsidies for these projects and to invest in family farms rather than factory farms.

      Notes from Anti-trust Hearing In Batavia, NY

      In Farmer's Concerns, Food Chain, Food System, Policy, Uncategorized on April 26, 2010 at 2:56 pm

      Room Filled with New York Dairy Farmers Listen to Anti-Trust Investigator Christine Varney.

      After attending the anti-trust hearing hosted by NY Senator Charles Schumer and Assistant U.S. Attorney General Christine A. Varney in Batavia, NY, I have more questions than answers, but one thing was made clear: New York State dairy farmers have had a very bad year. Consolidation in our milk processing system and in major retail chains has left area farmers with little bargaining power when it comes to pricing their milk.

      Senator Charles Schumer Speaks to a Packed Room of New York Dairy Farmers

      Our farmers also face growing debt, reduced access to credit and for many, especially small dairies, a bleak future. Senator Schumer stressed how important dairy was to rural New York’s economy and how antitrust investigation must be conducted to see how consolidation disadvantages New York farmers. “We have to stop this and stop this now. We do not want to wake up to a tomorrow with no NY dairy farms. Consumers pay more and farmers get less. Someone is making the money. Lack of transparency and competition in processing hurts farmers AND consumers.” Schumer pointed out that “with such concentrated market conditions, farmers have less options for selling their product and see higher prices on the farm, while consumers aren’t seeing more competitive prices at the store.”

      Assistant U.S. Attorney General Christine A. Varney

      “We will not let you down,” Assistant U.S. Attorney General Christine A. Varney said : “We know the problem you’re facing.”

      Here are some of my condensed notes from the hearing!

      Barbara Brown, a county legislator in Oswego County and Dairy Farmer

      Interestingly, there seemed to be more talk about dairy cooperatives than there was about consolidation among many of the attending farmers. In western NY there are two large cooperatives, UPSTATE Farms and Dairy Lea, which were both well-represented. Many producers spoke about how vitally important cooperatives were to their farms, and how their bargaining power was instrumental to the-well being of milk operations. Other farmers, especially those with smaller herds, spoke about how the major cooperatives did not help them lower hauling costs or bargain against processors who insist on paying below their input costs. The CEO of Dairy Lea testified and said that cooperatives provided leveraging power to farmers because there was strength in numbers. Others did not paint such a rosy picture. Barb Brown was the most critical voice, saying that Dairy Lea had in fact bankrupted her father and had done little to prevent the decline of the family dairy in New York State. Her words were poignant and sad: “It’s genocide of the American dairy farmer. We are losing a whole way of life.” She also spoke about the severe stress dairy farmers are under and how many are at a mental health breaking point. She stressed how she now prays for a neighbor whom she visited and burst into tears when she walked onto his lawn. Because he is losing money as a dairy farmer he feels like a failure, and cannot understand how he struggles to survive as a farmer on the same farm his father raised seven kids on. She also mentioned how stressed the farm children were(something close to my heart) , because they see how financially strained their parents are and become depressed themselves. Barb also noted how hauling costs can be the same for large dairy farms as they are for a small 100-head dairy, making it impossible for smaller farms to compete.

      Farmers gathered from across the state to share their concerns and grievances.

      Another farmer reiterated many Senator Schumer’s points, but went further by speaking out against what he perceived as rampant crookedness and manipulation in the dairy industry. He stressed that the numbers speak for themselves: The number of American dairy farmers has dropped from 250,000 to 50,000 since the dawn of the Reagan administration. Another farmer pointed out that this was David vs. Goliath, NY family farmers against huge corporations. “We need the help of government”, he pleaded. Yet another farmer pointed out that they did not want hand-outs, but a fair market.

      The milk pricing issue was explained in Adriana’s article Take Back Our Milk: Unraveling the Dairy Crisis, which really illustrates how complex this is from a policy and distribution perspective. Many questions remain for me, but hauling costs seem to be an issue that, if examined, might help us keep our family farms closer and local. We also need more stability in our pricing structure if we want to encourage young people to become dairy farmers. NY farmers also receive the lowest mailbox rate for their milk east of the Mississippi, a statistic which demonstrates how more local milk systems could benefit our farmers.