by Christine Morrissey Friday, Aug. 19, 2005 at 3:17 PM
As the nation's largest dairy producer, California serves as the benchmark for industry standards and norms. Annually, the Golden State generates $4.6 billion in revenue from 1.5 million cows at 2,400 farm operations. According to the California Department of Food and Agriculture, one out of every five dairy cows in the United States is raised in California. Despite exceptional economic and agriculture growth, California's dairy practices have a detrimental effect on animal welfare, environmental sustainability, public health, and occupational safety.
Each year the California Milk Advisory Board (CMAB) spends $37 million to promote the Happy Cows Campaign. CMAB's marketing promotion depicts computer-animated cows praising life on picturesque dairies in California. "These campaigns are designed to leave consumers feeling good about what they buy," explains R.M. Arrieta of the Independent Press Association.
CMAB's advertising starkly contrasts with the life of the modern California dairy cow. Most are raised on outdoor, 'dry lot' dairy operations. These animal feeding operations commonly confine several thousand cows on limited acreage.
These cows are denied adequate protection from severe weather conditions. During the first quarter of 2005, severe winter storms devastated dairy operations throughout the state. In San Bernardino and Riverside counties, more than 100 cows and 300 calves died per day. As well, cows are shorn of proper bedding and sanitary rest quarters. In these conditions, dairy cows frequently become ill with Mastitis, Laminitis, Johne's Disease, Milk Fever, Bovine Immunodeficiency Virus and Bovine Leukemia Virus.
On intensive farming operations, dairy cows deliver calves every twelve months. This rigorous pregnancy cycle, in which cows are impregnated via artificial insemination, is physically taxing on the mother cow. During their ninth-month gestation period, they typically produce milk for seven months. To increase milk production, cows are sometimes injected with Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH), which can be harmful to the health of the mother cow and her offspring. Shortly after birth, the mother and calf are permanently separated. Female calves, the future milk-producers of the dairy operation, are confined to small crates for the first three months of their lives, and male calves, with no milk-producing capabilities, are raised and slaughtered for beef or veal.
The natural lifespan of a cow is approximately twenty-five years. On average, commercially-raised dairy cows are slaughtered for beef within five to six years.
In 2004, the California Pollution Control Financing Authority allocated $70 million in state bond funds to expand large dairy operations, which produce significant amounts of pollution from cow manure. Over thirty million tons of waste are created by California's 1.5 million dairy cows each year. Air polluting agents found in cow manure include carbon dioxide, methane, hydrogen sulfide and ammonia. It is common-practice for cow manure to accumulate on dairies up to six months before removal. Barry Wallerstein of the California's South Coast Air Quality Management District says, "Emissions from that manure contribute to ozone and fine particulate pollution."
A University of California-Davis study revealed that dairy cow belching is one of the leading causes of air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. The Associated Press reports that "the air in California's dairy-rich San Joaquin Valley is now among the dirtiest in the nation, recording more eight-hour ozone level violations than Los Angeles."
Cow manure possesses nitrogen compounds, which overwhelms waterways. Algal blooms develop as a result of the contamination. Thereafter, nitrogen can pollute groundwater and wells, which prevents safe water consumption for humans.
According to Bill Jennings of DeltaKeeper, a San Joaquin Valley environmental protection group, "Dairies are the single largest source of water pollution in San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties. Our volunteers frequently encounter massive discharges of dairy waste that literally cauterize waterways and kill fish."
According to the South Coast Air Quality Management District, California dairies pose a serious threat to humans living in surrounding rural communities. Odors, flies, and dried manure dust emanating from dairies are identified as agents of disease among humans.
The Inland Southern California Press-Enterprise (July 31, 2004) reports: "Ammonia from cow waste reacts with vehicle and smokestack pollution to form fine particles that have been blamed for reduced lung strength, heart attacks and premature deaths." Likewise, a recent study in Southern New Mexico revealed a higher rate of asthma and diarrhea among children living near dairy farms.
The United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service reports that California dairies have one of the highest rates of worker injury incidents. Regularly, dairy personnel are kicked by cows or slip on muddy surfaces.
"The dairy industry makes billions of dollars, but you never hear about the conditions of the worker," says Alfredo Sanchez of California Rural Legal Assistance.
In February 2001, two Aguiar-Faria & Sons Dairy employees were overcome by methane gas while working in a drain pit. The two workers subsequently drown in liquefied cow waste. Patrick Faria, owner of the dairy, was brought to trial on two counts of involuntary manslaughter and a violation of the state Labor Code. Unexpectedly, the Merced County jury delivered a 'Not Guilty' verdict in the case. However, David Beebe, the jury foreman in the trial, said, "We did find it striking the state still does not require warning signs on manure pits. It seems patently callous now."
As Mark Wilk of the Oregon Law Center reports, "Dairy folks are legally in the worst of all worlds. There really is no federal law at all to protect them."
For more information on East Bay Animal Advocates' California dairy industry investigation, go to www.insidedairyproduction.com.
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