By Joshua Benton
Blade Columbus Bureau
COLUMBUS — Ohio doesn’t do enough to regulate its factory farms, and the state’s environment suffers as a result, according to a report issued yesterday by a national environmental group.
The Natural Resources Defense Council said Ohio and other states regulate the enormous complexes with the same hands-off attitude they use for small family farms. The group writes that manure from the farms pollutes nearby air and water.
“Factory farms have polluted our surface waters, our ground water, and our air,” the report says. “It’s time to recognize the damage that animal factories are wreaking on our environment.”
Under Ohio law, a factory farm is one with more than 750 dairy cows, 1,000 beef cattle, 2,400 hogs, or 100,000 poultry. Ten years ago, fewer than a dozen of these industrial-sized farms existed in Ohio. About 110 are in operation today.
The group’s findings match the complaints of Ohioans who live near the Buckeye Egg Farm, the giant poultry producer that has been criticized often about environmental matters.
Neighbors have complained about the odor caused by the large amounts of manure generated by Buckeye Egg’s chickens, including the 2.2 million chickens near Mt. Victory, O., in Hardin County. They say that the manure attracts swarms of flies that stretch for miles, that their homes have been attacked by beetles, and that the manure has polluted their water.
But an official with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency said the report’s criticisms are overblown and biased.
“I believe the authors of the report have an agenda to put forward, and they used information that would help them do just that,” said John Sadzewicz, deputy director of the EPA’s water programs.
Among the report’s claims:
* Ohio does not require air pollution control permits for factory farms. Mr. Sadzewicz said that EPA attorneys examined the issue and found that, as agricultural operations, such permits should not be required for megafarms.
* Ohio does not allow local control over factory farms. Mr. Sadzewicz said that, as agricultural operations, they are exempt from local zoning, as are family farms.
* Ohio allows megafarms to sell off some of the millions of gallons of manure they produce to other farmers, without making the identities of those farmers public. Residents say that prevents them from tracking the manure to make sure that it doesn’t run off into streams.
Mr. Sadzewicz said the EPA knows which farmers get the manure and can do its own checking. But companies can request that the information not be made public under Ohio’s trade secrecy laws.
The report criticized the state for being slow to enforce rules and unwilling to hold public hearings, both of which Mr. Sadzewicz said aren’t accurate claims.