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Published: Tuesday, 6/27/2006

A load of manure

THE key question that comes up every time a megafarm prepares to move into a community is what will be done with all that nasty, uh, effluent produced by thousands of head of livestock.

In the case of the proposed Naomi Dairy, near Jerry City in Wood County, the annual output from its 1,765 cows is estimated at 23.4 million gallons of liquid manure, as well as nearly 13,000 tons of sand and "separated solids," to use the euphemism employed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Given the environmental and health hazards such operations can present, we believe people who live in the vicinity of a planned megafarm are entitled to know in advance the final disposition of these byproducts. And, we're pleased to see, so do officials at the agriculture department - finally.

Reversing its own decision that maps showing where manure would be spread somehow involve "trade secrets" that deserve protection, the department has agreed to make the documents public after a 10-day period in which the farm's developer can appeal.

A spokesman for Vreba-Hoff Dairy, the corporate developer of Naomi Dairy, insists that her company has "a confidential relationship" with neighboring farmers who will spread the manure on their fields and that the maps should be kept secret to protect them from "harassment."

Now there's another load of manure.

When public health is at stake, as it most certainly could be in this case, the public deserves full disclosure of any potential peril it faces. With megafarms, problems can - and usually do - include hordes of flies, dust, extreme odor (far beyond normal agricultural smells), and illness-producing pollution of groundwater.

The fact is, if Naomi Dairy were a city or industrial plant producing 23 million gallons of sewage or toxic waste, it would be required to build a treatment plant. But megafarms are allowed to simply impound their effluent in lagoons susceptible to flooding and spread the stuff on the ground.

The Republican-led legislature made a serious mistake in 2003 when it put the concerns of corporate agriculture first and stripped county health officials of any authority to regulate these giant livestock feeding operations in the public interest.

As more and more megafarms like Naomi Dairy appear on the rural scene, perhaps Ohioans will come to understand how this loss of local control directly impacts them.

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