In today’s highly competitive marketplace, there are many moral and ethical dilemmas faced by Missouri farmers. There is a constant need to balance the needs of humanity with the sustainability of the environment. This paper will aim to discuss the issues faced by the Valley Oaks Steak Company with regards to its community and environmental impact as well as other important ethical issues and challenges in agriculture.
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In 2016, the Valley Oaks Steak Company was founded in order to bring locally grown beef to Kansas City and the surrounding metro area. Valley Oaks Steak Company is owned and operated by the Ward family, who currently reside in the Grain Valley area. The family has been breeding registered Angus cattle and privately selling the beef for many years. They guarantee that their products are locally raised just outside of the Kansas City area in Lone Jack, Missouri. The business has attempted to offer a true farm to table experience by adding a processing plant and local feedlot to their operation. The feedlot is designed to house the cattle, all of which carry top of the line genetics, all under roof in six large state of the art barns. They are kept at a healthy temperature with the help of fans and are fed twice daily with a balanced ration of corn and other nutrients. All cattle in the feedlot are required to meet a set of standard put in place by the Valley Oaks staff. According to the Valley Oaks Steak Company, the cattle live a comfortable lifestyle in a stress-free environment. Valley Oaks products can be found in local stores and markets as well as online (Valley, n.d.).
Valley Oaks Steak Company is located off of Highway 50 in Kingsville, Missouri, about 40 miles southeast of downtown Kansas City (Dillon, 2018). It is located just three miles from Powell Gardens and the same distance from the town of Lone Jack, Missouri (Powell, 2018). Powell Gardens is a nearly 1,000-acre botanical garden with thousands of plant varieties, a nature trail, and an indoor conservatory (Dillon, 2018).
The Powell Family purchased the land for Powell Gardens in 1948. In 1988, it was classified as a non-profit cultural landmark. The facility has a total of 970 acres and 100 acres are maintained as botanical gardens (Powell, 2018). The grounds provide a living museum of plant collections and respite for those seeking to enjoy its natural beauty. They also offer events and classes. It hosts other special events such as weddings, field trips, and galas (Dillon, 2018). Powell Gardens welcomes an average of 100,000 visitors yearly (Powell, 2018).
This city of Lone Jack is located in Jackson County, Missouri. It was named after a Civil War battle that took place in 1862. At the 2010 U.S. census, the population was said to be 1,050. This included 378 households and 302 families. The city is made up of only land and has a total area of 3.75 square miles.
Valley Oaks Steak Company has been in the planning phase of expanding their confined animal feeding operation, also known as a CAFO. A confined animal feeding operation is “a modern agricultural practice that involves raising livestock in a confined space” such as a building or complex (Powell, 2018). The owner of Valley Oaks, David Ward, opened the Lone Jack facility with a small slaughterhouse and just a few hundred cows (Dillon, 2018). The proposed expansion will increase the number of cattle nearly sevenfold, from the current 900 cattle to just fewer than 7,000 cattle (Henderson, 2018). An estimated 2,600 head of cattle will be added by the end of the year (McCarthy, 2018). According to Missouri Law, this would be a transition from a Class II CAFO to a Class 1B CAFO (Powell, 2018).
In August, Valley Oaks was supposed to send notice to a number of local residents to inform them of the expansion, but it wasn’t until February that they received the notices. Also, multiple elected officials have known about the expansion plan months before the general public, but the application was in its final stages by the time residents learned about the proposed expansion. Some of the barns were already being constructed or even completed (Dillon, 2018). On June 15th, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources issued an approval of the expansion permit (Henderson, 2018).
Once the permit was authorized, opponents appealed the decision and the commission decided to reconsider the application (Henderson, 2018). In February, Powell Gardens President and CEO, Tabitha Schmidt, began pushing for a public hearing. Schmidt made the following statement: “We are disappointed that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has made such a detrimental decision against the interest of our natural resources and public health. We will be pursuing all available recourse to protect our public treasure” (Powell, 2018). The Missouri Department of Natural Resources Residents has received over 600 comments from residents with regards to the Valley Oaks expansion. An organization calling themselves the Lone Jack Neighbors for Responsible Farmers created the Facebook page called “Say No To Valley Oaks”. The page has more than 700 members, with the comment section showing very little support for the expansion (Dillon, 2018).
A rather subtle partiality towards the expansion was shown by the state when they arranged the hearing. Residents of the Lone Jack community requested that the hearing be held locally at Lone Jack High School. This location would have been able to accommodate up to 600 people. Ultimately, the meeting was scheduled at the Warrensburg Community Center. This venue can only hold a maximum of 200 people (Dillon, 2018). Drawing an over-capacity crowd, over 400 people from the community showed up at the public hearing and many were turned away at the doors (Londberg, 2018). When an explanation was asked of the chief of Missouri Department of Natural Resource’s industrial permits as to the location of the hearing, he said the decision was based on the fact that the high school is located in Jackson County while the CAFO is in Johnson County. Powell Gardens responded by providing a 55-passenger bus to transport residents to Warrensburg (Dillon, 2018).
When the case came before the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission in July, a temporary stay was issued on the Valley Oaks development in order for the application to be reviewed (Bernard, 2018). The Commission ruled in favor of opponents of the Valley Oaks Steak Company. They stated that the opposition provided enough evidence to support claims that the expansion could harm the community. The stay delayed the expansion until the Missouri Department of Natural Resources had a chance to revisit the permit application at a hearing held in August (Henderson, 2018). The final hearing on the permit was scheduled for August 27 in Jefferson City (Powell, 2018).
The Administrative Hearing Commission recommended that the Missouri Clean Water Commission reverse the permit based on “procedural oversights, unrealistic expectations of manure production and inadequate storage plans for said manure” (Bernard, 2018). They also cited inaccurate data on the applications. After the hold was announced, officials from Valley Oaks issued the following statement:
Given the orders previously issued by the Administrative Hearing Commission, its recommendation was not unexpected. We believe that the recommendation is contrary to the law and the evidence, and improperly focuses on minor, technical issues that have nothing to do with the validity of the permit or any potential for harm to the public or environment. Under the law, the Missouri Clean Water Commission makes the final decision and we are confident that it will agree with the experts at the Department of Natural Resources that we met or exceeded all of the permitting requirements. We look forward to continuing to provide high quality, locally produced beef to our customers. (Fox, 2018)
The Clean Water Commission will have the final ruling on the expansion. They will have until December 22 to consider the recommendation and make a decision based on such. If the permit is upheld, Powell Gardens has the option to go forth with an injunction that was filed with Jackson County in June (Bernard, 2018).
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, an animal feeding operation (AFO) can be defined as a lot or facility where animals are kept confined and fed or maintained for at least 45 days out of the year and there are no crops, vegetation, or forage growth sustained in the area over the normal growing period (Centers, 2016). A concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) contains a certain number of animals creating waste materials that come into contact with the water supply (Hribar, 2018). The Environmental Protection Agency estimates an approximate 18,800 CAFOs in the United States and the US Government Accountability Office estimated that the number of animals raised in such facilities increased 246% from 1982 to 2002 (Greger, 2010).
The Clean Water Act of 1972 deemed CAFOs at potential pollutants. In order to set effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs), a permit program entitled the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) was created and has been used to regulate CAFOs since the mid-1970s. These regulations were revised in 2003, requiring all CAFOs to develop and implement a nutrient management plan. This ensured that nutrient levels were maintained during the treatment or processing of waste. This rule was challenged in court and the rule was updated again in 2008, requiring only CAFOs which discharge or propose to discharge waste to apply for permits. (Hribar, 2010). According to the narrative summary of design published by the Valley Oaks Steak Company, LLC, the nutrient handling and storage structures will operate as a no discharge system (Valley, 2017).
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Concentrated animal feeding operations are often controversial and rather unpleasant by nature. This shift in animal agriculture industries is leading to more animals being confined in fewer, but larger, operations. The EPA has estimated that animals in a confined facility can generate three times more waste than is produced by humans (Greger, 2010). Large farms have been known to produce more waste than some U.S. cities even (Centers, 2016). Therefore, much of the environmental harm caused by CFOs results from this large volume of excrement. According to the Environmental Protections Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture, confined animal farming operations account for up to 60% of the approximately 500 million tons of manure produced every year (Greger, 2010). It is estimated that the Valley Oaks feedlot would produce close to 40 tons of manure per day. The concern is that this will be more manure than can be assimilated into the surrounding land (Londberg, 2018). If waste is over applied to land, it may emit harmful gases into the atmosphere and could further contaminate the water supply (Greger, 2010).
A common storage system is a manure lagoon that is used to store the liquefied manure. These open-air pits pose a risk to ground or surface water quality. Although these lagoons may decrease the amount of nutrients that must be applied to the land, they still threaten groundwater and air quality through leaching or volatilization (Greger, 2010). The Missouri Department of Natural Resources states, “Each on of these operations will generate a large amount of animal manure that must be managed properly. When this is accomplished, farmers will have a safe, reliable and sustainable fertilizer source for their farming operation. When it is not, the farm has the potential to negatively impact the state’s water resources” (Londberg, 2018).
Valley Oaks was granted a Class 1B National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, making them subject to all concentrated animal feeding operations regulations and permit requirements. The application for expansion was also reviewed to ensure completeness and compliance with the Missouri Clean Water Law and regulations set forth by the Missouri Clean Water Commission (McCarthy, 2018). Due to the fact that the Valley Oaks facility is categorized as a Class 1B CAFO, violations of the Clean Water Act are the only issues that the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will oversee (Dillon, 2018).
The Clean Water Act regulates the discharge of pollutants into the water and regulates quality standards for surface waters. This amendment transferred the regulation of water pollution from local to federal control (Jennings, 2018). The EPA has implemented programs to set wastewater standards and has also developed national water quality criteria recommendations (United, 2018). There are now federal standards specific to each industry. Violations of the Clean Water Act can carry criminal penalties of up to $25,000 per day and up to a year of prison. The penalties for willful violations increase to $50,000 with up to three years imprisonment and repeat violations can carry penalties of $100,000 and up to six years of prison time (Jennings, 2018).
Manure produced by animals in a CAFO contains a variety of potential contaminants. It may contain macronutrients from plants such as nitrogen and phosphorus, micronutrients such as heavy metals that have been added to the animal feed, pathogens such as E.coli, as well as chemicals, antibiotics, and pesticides (Centers, 2016). There are no laws requiring the treatment of manure before it is applied (Greger, 2010). Groundwater contamination and its harmful impacts to the land are one of the primary concerns raised by the staff at Powell Gardens (Dempsey, 2018). If the water supply is polluted by runoff from the feedlot, it may harm the plants. This is of even more concern considering many of the plant species are on the endangered list (Bernard, 2018).
Aside from concerns about water quality, there are many other environmental health effects resulting from these confined animal feeding operations. As mentioned previously, most manure produced is applied to the surrounding land. Over application can result in the volatilization of ammonia and resulting air emissions. The first phase of emissions occur immediately following land application. The second phase occurs later as substances in the soil break down. Ammonia is a chemical irritant that can cause chemical burns to the respiratory tract, skin, and eyes. It can also contribute to chronic lung disease. Nitrogen can undergo nitrification and denitrification, creating nitrous oxide. Ventilation systems can also release dangerous contaminants (Hribar, 2010).
Along with gaseous emissions such as ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, animal confinement facilities can generate other air contaminates such as skin cells, feed, fungi and other particulates (Greger, 2010). Studies have shown that odor from factory farm waste can carry as far as five or six miles (Dillon, 2018). It has also been indicated that people living near a confined animal feeding operation may be at increased risk of developing respiratory illnesses, neurobehavioral symptoms, and psychological impairments due to exposure to contaminants (Greger, 2010).
Anthony Arton, Johnson County’s top health administrator, has been expressing his concerns for many months. One of his main health concerns includes an increase risk of asthma in children and adults in the surrounding area. He also warns of life threatening risks such as pulmonary edema and brain damage, and some less severe symptoms including nausea, headaches, vomiting and diarrhea. Arton requested that an ordinance be drafted by the commission that would regulate the location of CAFOs in relation to cities, specifically school buildings (Dillon, 2018).
Along with the potential health risks of reduced air quality, a concern about property values has been on the forefront of discussions surrounding the Valley Oaks expansion. As stated previously, odors from a confined animal feeding operation can travel several miles. There are several neighborhoods surrounding the farm. An estimated 500 to 880 homes lie within a three-mile radius of Valley Oaks. These unpleasant odors can have a negative impact on property values (Dillon, 2018). Other causes that could contribute to the decline might include the risk of air or water pollution or the fear of loss of amenities. The closer a property is to a CAFO, the more likely it will be that the value of the property will drop. One study shows a 6.6% decrease within a three-mile radius and an up to an 88% decrease within one tenth of a mile. A decline in property value can lead to even more problems by placing stress on the budgets of local governments due to a drop in property tax rates (Hribar, 2010).
As mentioned previously, because of the Class 1B classification of Valley Oaks, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will only have jurisdiction when it comes to violations of the Clean Water Act. Clean air pollution laws and public nuisance regulations will not apply (Dillon, 2018).
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- James, H. S. (2005). The Ethical Challenges in Farming: A Report on Conversations with Missouri Corn and Soybean Producers. Journal of Agricultural Safety and Health,11(2), 239-248. doi:10.13031/2013.18191
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- Londberg, M. (2018, April 3). ‘Toilet bowl of Missouri’? Proposed feedlot expansion near Powell Gardens spurs debate. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article207863714.html
- McCarthy, R. (2018, July 30). Valley Oaks Steak Co. expansion on hold in Missouri. Retrieved November 2, 2018, from https://www.meatpoultry.com/articles/19896-valley-oaks-steak-co-expansion-on-hold-in-missouri
- Powell Gardens. (2018). Protecting Powell Gardens and Its Community. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://powellgardens.org/protecting-powell-gardens-and-its-community/
- United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2018, March 29). Summary of the Clean Water Act. Retrieved November 12, 2018, from https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/summary-clean-water-act
- Valley Oaks Steak Company, LLC. (2017, December). VALLEY OAKS STEAK COMPANY, LLC NARRATIVE SUMMARY OF DESIGN. Retrieved November 16, 2018, from https://dnr.mo.gov/env/wpp/cafo/docs/G010872_SupportingDocuments.pdf
- Valley Oaks Steak Company. (n.d.). Our Story. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.valleyoakssteakcompany.com/our-story/
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