News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Hearing set for industrial farms bill

A state bill limiting industrial-scale agriculture, including three local chicken ranches, has received a second public hearing after an initial meeting saw lawmakers overwhelmed with feedback.

A new hearing on Senate Bill 85 is scheduled for 8 a.m. March 13 before the Senate Committee On Natural Resources. The committee has until March 17 to vote on advancing the bill.

SB 85 would direct the Oregon Department of Agriculture to study the environmental impacts of confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and recommend policy changes to the legislature. A pending amendment would incorporate language currently in House Bill 2667 that imposes a moratorium on new or rewered CAFO permits.

HB 2667, which has not received a hearing since being introduced in January, is expected to die in committee.

The amendment to SB 85 was proposed during an initial committee hearing March 6. More than 100 people signed up to give verbal testimony, while more than 500 others provided written input including 42 people from Scio. 

The hearing was limited to two hours and not everyone who signed up was able to speak, leading to the second hearing March 13.

Among those who did address the committee March 6 were Rep. Jami Cate (R-Lebanon), who said SB 85 would be “devastating” to agriculture.

“Our farms have gotten bigger because they had to to stay in business,” said Cate, arguing opponents of industrial-scale agriculture are out of touch with what it takes to feed a large population.

Cate spoke directly in support of three chicken ranches near Jordan, Scio and Stayton, one of which received its CAFO permit last year while the others await regulatory approval.    

The ranches would produce a combined 12.5 million broiler chickens annually for Foster Farms. 

The facilities have become a flashpoint for local residents opposed to big agriculture, with activists forming Farmers Against Foster Farms (FAFF) in 2021. FAFF supporters were among those in attendance March 6 and they have encouraged residents to attend or send written testimony for the March 13 hearing.

While FAFF members did not speak during the hearing, many were among the hundreds to submit written testimony supporting SB 85. They also released a brief documentary March 2 about Lourdes School, a public charter school in Jordan, which is down the road and downstream from proposed chicken farm Evergreen Ranch.

“​​Schools have an obligation to provide a safe place for all children, and this mega-poultry farm would be especially harmful for students with allergies or asthma,” said Principal Linda Duman in the documentary.

The video showed interviews with school staff and parents who spoke in support of SB 85. Teacher Dru O’Bryant said they have had many discussions with students about the proposed farm and some kids are concerned about health risks.

“They want to be able to play outside freely without fear of getting sick,” said O’Bryant.

Cate pushed back against such arguments during her March 6 testimony and said opponents of CAFOs represent a “small fraction” of residents. She said most Oregon residents are unaware of whether or not they live near a poultry CAFO because the facilities operate under effective regulations and industry standards.

“Our CAFOs aren’t new, they have just gone almost entirely unnoticed by our communities for decades,” said Cate. “Our communities haven’t heard about them because they haven’t been an issue, just like they will continue not being an issue.”

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