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Yet Another Reason to Reduce Our Dependence on the Cow

September 18, 2009

In today’s NY Times, there is a significant article on drinking well contamination and associated health effects from agricultural runoff, and specifically, manure. The article, Health Ills Abound as Farm Runoff Fouls Wells speaks to the vast quantities of waste produced by our dependence on the cow. Manure, in itself, wouldn’t cause harmful chemicals to leach into drinking wells if properly managed in small amounts. It is the sheer quantity of waste that is causing bacteria such as E. coli to fester in drinking water.

So what can be done? For one, the E.P.A. can be given greatly authority and power to regulate since now most of the regulations come from the state or county. The article states:

To address this problem, the federal Environmental Protection Agency has created special rules for the biggest farms, like those with at least 700 cows.

But thousands of large animal feedlots that should be regulated by those rules are effectively ignored because farmers never file paperwork, E.P.A. officials say.

And regulations passed during the administration of President George W. Bush allow many of those farms to self-certify that they will not pollute, and thereby largely escape regulation.

When there is so much money in the agricultural industry, farms self-certifying their environmental integrity is ridiculous.

Image via NY Times

Image via NY Times

In a growing battle between the powerful agriculture industry and environmental groups, we need to find a way to have farms exist and function sustainably. Maybe instead of pushing to have more, more, more, resulting in bigger, bigger, bigger, we need to focus on bringing agriculture back to the local level. We can reduce our dependence on the cow by eating less beef and buying milk from smaller, local farmers. Larger farms can diversify with crop rotation and polycultures, an idea Michael Pollan has been pushing for in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Growing a monoculture, whether it be cows, corn, or soybeans, always has environmental repercussions, and this article alerts us to one of them.

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