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Anti-pollution Measure J sees backlash from Sonoma farmers

By Brian Hackney

Updated on: May 23, 2024 / 2:32 PM PDT / CBS San Francisco

A summer of discontent is looming in Sonoma County, as Measure J sets the stage for an old story: animal activists vs. large-scale poultry and cattle ranching.

Measure 'J' would outlaw larger animal farms and those defined as polluting the water in Sonoma County. Such farms are called CAFOs, short for 'Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations'- or euphemistically, 'factory farms'.

Kristina Garfinkel of the Coalition to End Factory Farming says "CAFOs are major polluters. They pollute groundwater, surface water. And they're cruel to animals."

"Lies, lies, lies, and more lies," according to Kathy Tresch, whose farm - targeted for closure under the measure - has been in the family since 1905.

The measure collected enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot in Sonoma by, opponents argue, brandishing shocking photos of dead animals. More photos, obtained by "entering (poultry farm) facilities without the owner's knowledge", were presented at a coalition press conference on Tuesday morning.

"I've seen these horrific conditions firsthand, and I've reported them to law enforcement repeatedly, but nothing has been done. They're estimated to confine over two hundred thirty thousand chickens inside these industrial sheds," said Lewis Bernier, a factory farm investigator.

In response to the photos, which show dead or diseased chickens and ducks, the Sonoma County Farm bureau bristled.

"Isolated incidences of mortality occur on any farm despite the best animal care practices, and it is grossly misleading to portray these photos as representative of conditions at family farms," explained the bureau's official response.

The Tresch family farm has 750 cows on 2000 certified organic acres- more than an acre per cow, Kathy's daughter, Lydia, points out- and they're offended by the suggestion that they mistreat their animals.

"We were the environmentalists of the year in Sonoma County one year. We've had stewards of the land award," Kathy said. The family is worried about their future if the measure passes.

"Our farm would be gone." said Kathy.

"Yeah. It would. We would be shut down," her daughter Lydia agreed.

"If I was drafting something based on animal welfare alone, it might be a different limitation," said Bernier when speaking on the threat of family farm closures.

County Supervisors are unanimously opposed to the measure. "Everything is wrong with measure J," says supervisor David Rabbitt. "It is a disaster for Sonoma County." He claims an annual half-billion dollar hit to the economy. But since a measure like this has never been passed anywhere in the country, its effects are almost incalculable.

"We think that starting at the local level in a place where there is a high amount of public opinion against factory farming is a good way to start that ball rolling," Bernier said. The idea, as he expressed it, is that if it wins here in Sonoma, other areas could do the same.

Of course, the huge debate is over what constitutes a 'factory farm'. As Measure supporters see it, about two dozen large facilities in Sonoma qualify for closure.

"One would be too many," says supervisor David Rabbit.

As for mistreating her animals, Kathy Tresch said the claim is "completely false."

"For one thing, being certified organic, the national organic program has stringent requirements of how our animals are to be treated," she explained.

"The people who started this measure know nothing about farmers. They're not farmers. They're not from Sonoma County. They're from Berkeley and wherever else," said Lydia Tresch.

So as animal activists fight for animal welfare and lives, large farmers like the Tresch family will fight this summer for their livelihoods.


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