Oregonians fight for a moratorium on factory farms

January 30, 2023 5:30 am
chicken operation

Last year Oregon lawmakers studied the impact of industrialized chicken operations in a work group. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Oregon has more miles of polluted waterways than any other state. Meanwhile, residents in Northeast Oregon are fighting for safe drinking water after decades of contamination. 

Our mounting water crisis is playing out against a backdrop of climate change-driven mega-drought that threatens water scarcity statewide. Legislators in Salem must see these events for what they are — an interconnected threat to our water, health and climate. One bill can address all three. 

Rep. Zach Hudson, Sens. Jeff Golden and Michael Dembrow’s Factory Farm Moratorium Bill (House Bill 2667) would put a pause on all new and expanding factory farms in our state, protecting our water, safeguarding our health and limiting industrial agriculture’s climate impact. Its passage is as critical as the issues it addresses.

Oregon is at an agricultural tipping point — factory farms pose a growing threat. Over decades, family-scale diversified agriculture has been increasingly displaced by industrialized operations. According to a Food & Water Watch report, in the eight years after the state’s biggest factory farm began operations in 1999, more than 600 small-scale dairies went out of business. 

Today, our state is home to 55 factory farms that intensely and inhumanely confine tens of thousands of animals in buildings or feedlots. Oregon has a target on its back — out-of-state corporations like Foster Farms are keen to take advantage of our lax regulations and access to export ports to bring in more factory farms. Our water, health and climate have suffered enough — it’s time to stop factory farms’ proliferation.

A factory farm moratorium will help protect our water from further contamination. Oregon factory farms produce an enormous amount of manure that finds its way into our waterways both directly through manure spills like those in 2017 and 2019 that flushed hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste into the Tillamook River, and indirectly through manure application to fields, which drives groundwater nitrate contamination. This pollution clogs waterways with harmful algal blooms that make recreation and fishing dangerous, and endanger marine species habitats.

While less visible, groundwater contamination is a particularly pervasive issue. The Lower Umatilla Basin, home to Oregon’s largest factory farms, suffers from widespread groundwater nitrate contamination linked to factory farms. Communities in the area rely heavily on groundwater for their drinking water, even though nitrates increase the risk of thyroid disease and several types of cancer. Last June, Morrow County declared a state of emergency to address the problem. When you’re in a hole, stop digging. A factory farm moratorium will stop adding more nitrate-laden manure to our state’s waterways and precious groundwater.

A factory farm moratorium will safeguard our health. Factory farm pollution wreaks havoc on the health of workers and neighbors alike. This is as much an environmental justice issue as a health issue, with factory farms and their negative health effects largely concentrated near low-income and BIPOC communities. From cancer-causing drinking water to toxic air quality, factory farms threaten the health of local communities.

The air pollution from factory farms can be particularly dangerous to our health — so dangerous that public health experts including the American Public Health Association stand behind a moratorium on factory farms. The large quantities of waste concentrated on factory farms release airborne particulate matter linked to asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory diseases — nationwide, factory farm air pollution is responsible for more than 12,000 premature deaths every year. Last year, Food & Water Watch and almost two dozen groups filed a petition demanding the state begin regulating mega-dairies’ air pollution. State agencies denied the petition. Where agencies refuse to act, our legislators must.

A factory farm moratorium will also mitigate climate change. Factory farms fuel the climate crisis, emitting methane and nitrous oxide, greenhouse gasses up to 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. According to a Food & Water Watch report, Oregon’s mega-dairies alone spew methane emissions equivalent to the pollution from 318,000 passenger cars annually.

More factory farms will mean more greenhouse gasses, at the very time Oregon has committed to strengthening our emissions reductions. Globally, agriculture contributes an estimated 15% to 25% of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions; Livestock production contributes 80 percent of that. Climate action in Oregon must include passage of a factory farm moratorium to keep new polluters out.

Passage of HB 2667 will protect our water, safeguard our health and fight climate change — our elected officials must make it happen.


Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Lilli DiPaola
Lilli DiPaola

Lilli DiPaola is an organizer with the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition, which represents 27 organizations and hundreds of thousands of Oregonians in support of a factory farm moratorium. She is based in Beaverton, Oregon, and can be reached at [email protected]