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Big Dairies Raise Pollution Concerns

cowAs the consolidation of the US dairy industry into fewer and fewer, larger operations continues apace, fresh opposition is also growing in response to the increased pollution risk associated with bigger dairy farms, reports Environment 360.

More than half of US milk is now produced by just 3 percent of the country’s dairies, according to US Department of Agriculture figures, the publication reports. The very largest dairies now boast more than 15,000 cows. The major pollution concern with dairies is runoff from manure. Larger farms mean more manure production, hence increased concerns.

Historically manure from dairy herds was spread on fields as fertilizer, but as herds increase, it is common for farms to have more manure than they can handle.

In Wisconsin, where porous karst soils often intersect with large dairy production, manure runoff has seeped into aquifers and increased nitrogen levels in the soil. In one recent case the Wisconsin Department of Justice fined a dairy operation $65,000 for contaminating groundwater, the publication reports. In 2013, a record number of manure spills — more than 1 million gallons worth — were recorded, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in December.

Neighbors of Kinnard Farms dairy in Lincoln, Wisc., which is located in an area with karst soil, are in currently in court challenging a permit that would allow the farm to expand its dairy herd from 4,000 to 6,000 cows. Many of the town’s wells record nitrate levels above accepted standards. The challengers argue that the permit does not stipulate well enough how the farm will deal with the increased manure production.

The expansion of industrial dairy farms in Asia could lead to severe consequences for the environment, public health, animal welfare and rural economies, according to a policy paper by Brighter Green released in March.

The shift in the Asian diet, which traditionally includes virtually no dairy, has created an emerging market of nearly 3 billion potential new dairy consumers. To meet demand, concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs or factory farms, are being set up across Asia.

The paper forecasts that by 2025 countries in the global south will consume 375 million metric tons of milk and dairy products, nearly twice as much as in 1997.

Picture Credit: Cow on a summer pasture via Shutterstock

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