At an Oregon public hearing, all but one speak out against industrial chicken farm

PETA, a fish biologist and multi-generational farmers told the Oregon Department of Agriculture that building a big chicken operation in Scio is a bad idea.

By: - October 29, 2021 6:00 am

Chicken operations at industrial size in Oregon need a state permit to control management of the waste. (Courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

People in live testimony and in writing overwhelmingly oppose a major chicken farming operation planned for outside Scio.

The Oregon Department of Agriculture heard from about a dozen people against a new confined animal feeding operation at a public hearing on Oct. 20. It was a fraction of the more than 100 who submitted written comments by the Oct. 25 deadline, 80% of which were against allowing a permit to Eric Simon to build what could become one of the states largest confined chicken operations.

The Agriculture Department is considering issuing a permit to Simon to build and operate 12 barns on 60 acres outside near the Santiam River. Simon told the state in his application that the barns would house about 3.5 million broiler chickens each year to be supplied and then processed by Foster Farms.

The chickens would produce about 4,500 tons of manure each year. 

At the virtual hearing, only the Northwest Chicken Council favored Simon’s proposed operation. Executive Director Alison McIntyre said that the industry was more environmentally sound and humane than ever. 

“A modern facility now utilizes state-of-the-art technology to provide well-ventilated and air conditioned barns for birds, the very best feed and water,” she said. “We trust that Eric will be a good rancher and neighbor in Scio, and will continue to build community as part of his poultry business.”

Others, like activist Amber Canavan from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Brian Posewitz, a lawyer on the board of Humane Voters Oregon, spoke out against the treatment of the animals, an issue not considered by the Agriculture Department in considering Simon’s permit. Each person was given three minutes to comment. 

Bruce Zoellick, a federal fish biologist who worked for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management on the Santiam River, urged state agency officials to talk with the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding impacts to federally threatened salmon. He noted that two threatened salmon species depend on parts of the river near the proposed chicken operation. 

Many of the commenters, like Zoellick, were concerned with the health of the Santiam River and the production and emission of ammonia from the chicken barns and a holding barn for manure. Others were outright against calling Simon’s form of chicken rearing “farming.” 

Dave Smith would live across the street from Simon’s land in Scio. “This is a commercial operation. This is an industrial operation,” he said. “I do not believe this has anything to do with exclusive farm use land. It’s a misnomer, and it’s a tremendous insult to the local farmers around him,” Smith said. 

Among the 18 people who wrote to the Agriculture Department in support of Simon were his neighbors in Brownsville, where he operates a separate chicken operation. Some from Scio who submitted testimony feel he’s been unfairly treated while pursuing the permit for the Scio operation. 

“I believe Eric should be able to FARM on his exclusive farm use land without all of this backlash,” wrote Megan Simon, who lives eight miles from the proposed chicken operation. I am EMBARRASSED to be a part of a community that has been so unwelcoming and so unwilling to hear this poor guy out. I do not have a dog in this fight and feel like I shouldn’t even have to say anything but I couldn’t help but write something in support of Eric.”

The Agriculture Department will consider the comments and respond to ones that pertain to the framework for permitting before deciding whether to give Simon the greenlight. He has waited for the permit for more than a year, and there is no deadline for the agency to decide.

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Alex Baumhardt
Alex Baumhardt

Alex Baumhardt has been a national radio producer focusing on education for American Public Media since 2017. She has reported from the Arctic to the Antarctic for national and international media, and from Minnesota and Oregon for The Washington Post. She previously worked in Iceland and Qatar and was a Fulbright scholar in Spain where she earned a master's degree in digital media. She's been a kayaking guide in Alaska, farmed on four continents and worked the night shift at several bakeries to support her reporting along the way.

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