Baise: increasing legal threats target every aspect of animal agriculture
Denver, Colo. – “We have a large foundation in this country that is opposed to everything that you are doing,” says Gary Baise, lawyer with Olsson, Frank and Weeda Law in Washington, D.C. “The social contract with American agriculture is broken, and we are in a very serious time.”
Baise mentions, along with combating the American public’s negative perception of agriculture, the industry is forced to reckon with regulatory burdens as well.
Building trust with stories
“I want you to understand that the American public used to trust us – they no longer trust,” says Baise, pointing out that recent trends show an opposition to monocultures, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), international trade, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and the criminalization of CAFO runoff.
“We have so many great stories that we can tell about American agriculture, and we aren’t telling them,” says Baise.
Baise suggests that characters such as Mark Francis, who developed cattle tick vaccines, can help to regain trust and tell the story.
“Mark Francis was a professor in the 1880s when we only had one breed of cow, and it was the Longhorn, because of ticks and Texas fever,” he explained. “If ranchers took cattle any place in this country, they’d die, but Mark Francis figured out that if you dipped cattle, it killed ticks. By 1920, we had all sorts of breeds of beef cattle in this country, and the beef cattle industry exploded in growth.”
Baise notes that rebuilding trust with the American consumer won’t be an easy task, and he says, “There are great stories in ag that we all have, and all you have to get out there and start telling them.”
“Did you ever think of agriculture as a criminal activity?” asks Baise. “The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) does.”
Agriculture’s regulatory burden encompasses issues from genetically modified organisms to effluent limits and Clean Water Act compliance. Effluent limitations, according to Baise, are very similar to carbon dioxide concerns.
“The environmentalists want to take away the nutrients you use to grow your crops. They say they will control the runoff of nutrients for farmers and ranchers,” he says, noting that groups want farmers to control nutrients in rainwater runoff, specifically. “Streams will have limits on them, and they will come from American agriculture.”
Though there is a current exemption for agriculture storm water runoff, environmental groups have made efforts to eliminate them.
“They are trying to destroy the waterfall exception, and are being very effective,” says Baise, noting that if water falls on a piece of land, the farmer become responsible. “If you don’t control what runs off of your property, that can be deemed criminal because you knowingly allowed the rainfall.”
Regulations forced on the industry will shut down a variety of segments, including Florida’s agriculture industry. Baise says the Chesapeake Bay and Mississippi watersheds are next.
Today, Baise says the EPA is indicting farmers across the country for what they call negligent acts. Attorneys across the U.S. have charged farmers and ranchers with criminal negligent discharge as a result, and in 2011 a number of large cases were cited, including a dairy co-op for discharging ammonia solution into a creek and killing fish and an Idaho dairy farmer charged with a negligent misdemeanor for water runoff.
The list of EPA and Clean Water Act related cases is extensive, says Baise, adding, “This is what the EPA is doing to us.”
Baise admits that the picture he paints isn’t pretty, but in the long run, he is optimistic about the future.
“We will figure out how to solve these problems, but in the meantime, we have enormous threats, and they are legal threats,” comments Baise. “Admiral William Fredrick Halsey said, ‘There are not great men in life, only great challenges that ordinary men rise to meet.’ I think we can do that, and I think we will do that. I think we will rise to win in the end.”
Baise addressed attendees of the closing session of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture in Denver, Colo. on March 28. Saige Albert is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.