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E-M:/ RELEASE: E. coli-tainted spinach and need to limit factory farm bacteria

Enviro-Mich: Michigan has the second most diverse agriculture in the US, after California, and agriculture is either our second or third largest industry, depending on who is being asked.  The implications of E.coli 0157:H7 contamination in the foods we grow and sell should be of tremendous concern to everyone in Michigan.  Yet there is repeated documentation of pathogens in our waterways downstream from CAFOs, particularly after rainfalls.  Where is Michigan’s safety net when it comes to protecting our food supply? AW




CONTACT:      Elliott Negin, NRDC, 202/289-2405

Patrick Mitchell, EIP, 703/276-3266

                        Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, 202/675-6279


EPA Must Limit Factory Farm Animal Waste Bacteria, Groups Say


E. coli-Tainted Spinach Illustrates Need for Tougher Safeguards


WASHINGTON (September 26, 2006) – Three top national organizations working to safeguard the country’s food and water supplies warn that bacterial pollution from livestock and poultry factory farms poses a major threat to public health. The warning from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club and Environmental Integrity Project comes in the wake of a highly publicized E. coli outbreak from California-grown spinach.


The three groups are meeting with Environmental Protection Agency officials this afternoon to urge the agency to strengthen regulations controlling factory farm pollution. Last June the agency proposed a rule that fails to require factory farms to adequately reduce E. coli and other dangerous pathogens in the animal waste they generate, which pollutes waterways across the country. (For more information, go to www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/060622b.asp. For the EPA’s proposed rule, go to www.epa.gov/npdes/afo/revisedrule.)


“Factory farms are a major source of E. coli contamination, but the EPA is not doing enough to protect our food and water,” said Melanie Shepherdson, an NRDC attorney. “We have the technology today to dramatically reduce the bacteria, viruses and parasites in factory farm animal waste. We shouldn’t have to worry about eating contaminated vegetables or drinking water.”


The source for the E. coli that contaminated California spinach has not been determined; state officials and the groups are investigating a range of possible causes. However, a June 30 report by the state’s Central Coast Water Board found E. coli 0157:H7 – the strain that recently sickened 173 people and killed at least one – in five waterways in the Salinas watershed in Monterey County, the site of the tainted spinach fields. Livestock are common carriers of E. coli -157:H7, and the Department of Agriculture estimates that as many as 100 percent of cattle lots could be infected with this E. coli strain. (For the Central Coast Water Board report, go to: www.waterboards.ca.gov/rwqcb3/TMDL/documents/SalRivFecColPrelimProjRptJuly06.pdf.)


“We can’t ignore the potential connection between factory farms and E. coli in humans, both through drinking water and irrigation of vegetables,” said Michele Merkel, an Environmental Integrity Project attorney. “For example, in Walkerton, Ontario, more than 2,000 people became ill and five people died after drinking water from a municipal well that had been contaminated with E. coli. It came from runoff of manure spread onto fields by a nearby livestock operation. The risk of E. coli from such operations is significantly compounded by the EPA’s weak policing of factory farm-related pollution of rivers, streams, lakes and groundwater.”


The EPA announced the new proposed rule in response to a February 2005 U.S. Court of Appeals decision ordering the agency to revise a 2003 rule controlling factory farm water pollution. That ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed by NRDC, the Sierra Club and the Waterkeeper Alliance that maintained the 2003 rule was not strong enough (see www.nrdc.org/media/pressreleases/030310.asp).


Factory farms now dominate animal production across the country. In 2001, 5 percent of U.S. farms accounted for 54 percent of the nation’s beef and dairy cattle, hogs, and poultry, according to the Department of Agriculture. These factory farms generate some 500 million tons of manure annually, and routinely over-apply the liquid waste on land. It then runs off fields into nearby streams or seeps into underground water supplies, polluting the water with viruses, bacteria, pesticides, antibiotics, hormones and excessive nutrients. The EPA estimates that pathogens, such as E. coli, are responsible for 35 percent of the nation’s impaired river and stream miles, and factory farms are common pathogen sources.


Contact with manure, usually through water, can cause a number of diseases, including salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosis, and giardiasis. Symptoms range from headaches to abdominal gas and pain, to fever, kidney failure and even death. The very old, infants and young children, people with compromised immune systems, and pregnant women are especially at risk. The EPA concedes that the manure poses a significant health threat. “More than 150 pathogens found in livestock waste are associated with risk to humans,” the agency has stated, “including the six human pathogens that account for more than 90 percent of food and waterborne diseases in humans.” 


The 2005 Court of Appeals ruling ordered the EPA to set standards to reduce factory farm pathogen discharges. According to the environmental organizations, there are technologies available today that can reduce those pathogens by more than 99 percent.


“Factory farm waste poses serious risks to our health and environment,” said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club’s Environmental Quality Program. “This E. coli outbreak reminds us that we can’t continue to ignore the problem. The EPA should require factory farms to use modern pollution controls.”


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The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, nonprofit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 1.2 million members and e-activists nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco. More information on NRDC is available at its Web site, www.nrdc.org.


Inspired by their personal connection to nature, the Sierra Club’s more than 700,000 members work together to protect the planet. The Sierra Club is the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in America. For more information, go to www.sierraclub.org.


The Environmental Integrity Project (www.environmentalintegrity.org) is a non-profit and non-partisan organization dedicated to stronger enforcement of existing federal and state anti-pollution laws, and to the prevention of political interference with those laws. EIP’s research and reports shed light on how enforcement and rulemaking affect public health. EIP also works closely with communities seeking enforcement of environmental laws.