Poll results show strong desire for more CAFO regulations

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May 14—Eighty-one percent of registered northwest Ohio voters polled recently want stronger rules and regulations on large livestock facilities known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, according to results of a new poll released Thursday.

Pollster J. Ann Selzer came up with that consensus after her team did telephone interviews with 506 Ohioans from Erie, Lucas, Ottawa, and Sandusky counties last month. The study was set up to get a broad cross-section of the population and political parties represented, according to a news release from the Environmental Law & Policy Center, which commissioned the study.

Ninety-three percent ranked access to safe, clean water in general — including that in Lake Erie — as their No. 1 issue, above health care, jobs and wages, and the coronavirus.

Seventy-eight percent favor permits for a wider net of livestock facilities, including those with confined buildings that do not have quite enough animals to meet the Ohio Department of Agriculture's definition for CAFOs.

Ty Higgins, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation spokesman, said the agricultural community acts responsibly.

"Before ELPC formulated the questions for this survey, they should have looked into the answers. Ohio has one of the most comprehensive regulatory systems in the nation and every CAFO is permitted. In fact, regulations for every CAFO permitted farm in the entire western Lake Erie Basin are comprehensive and allow no room for error for farmers who apply manure," Mr. Higgins said. "Plus, farmers are allowed zero discharge of manure from the farm and are penalized for noncompliance. Polls like this are set up to meet a certain agenda. If questions were framed in a more realistic manner you would easily see that with a survey like this you can follow the money quicker than you can follow the facts."

During a news conference in which the results were discussed, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, a Democrat, accused Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and the Republican-controlled Ohio General Assembly of being "hopelessly out of touch" with northwest Ohio residents because of their insistence on trying to control manure and other fertilizers spread on farms with a suite of voluntary incentives aimed at promoting more efficient farming practices.

"What we've learned since the [Toledo] water crisis of 2014 is that all of the voluntary measures in the world will not solve this problem," Mr. Kapszukiewicz said. "The approach from Columbus politicians is all carrot and no stick."

Lucas County Commission President Tina Skeldon Wozniak agreed.

"To me, this is a slam dunk," she said. "We're seeing that voluntary measures just aren't working. We can't continue to accept the status quo."

Howard Learner, ELPC executive director, cited Ohio Environmental Protection Agency research which shows 88 percent of the Maumee River's phosphorus is from non-point runoff, primarily farms.

"What it shows is people have had enough," Mr. Learner said. "It's time to clean up Lake Erie."

The ELPC said Ms. Selzer's group does nationally recognized work.

The latest poll results reinforce findings from a similar study done in 2019, Ms. Selzer said.

Shelby Croft, Ohio Department of Agriculture spokesman, said the agency is encouraged by farmers who have shown "remarkable interest" in the H2Ohio initiative, adding their enthusiasm "shows they are eager to voluntarily implement conservation practices that will improve water quality."

More than 1,800 farmers have enrolled more than one million acres in the 14 targeted counties of the Maumee River watershed, Ms. Croft said.

Reducing the number of large livestock facilities would not likely result in a reduced amount of phosphorus applied in the western Lake Erie basin, she said.

Manure is a replacement for commercial fertilizer," Ms. Croft added. "If the amount of applied manure is reduced, more commercial fertilizer would then be utilized, which would not likely result in reducing the phosphorus load in Lake Erie."

She said the state has a pollution-abatement program in place for facilities that are not required by obtain permits, adding they "mimic many of the same standards."

"If a farm has a complaint or a manure spill, ODA will investigate and impose penalties for violations," Ms. Croft said.

First Published May 13, 2021, 6:33pm