How can milk, and lots of it, lead to the greatest health threat Fresno County has ever known? Lo and behold, milk comes from cows. And although we owe cows many thanks for quenching our thirst with this calcium-rich drink, these dairy-abiding creatures also come with less scrumptious waste products. Yes, unfortunately, even happy California cows. Every single day, a single cow produces 125 pounds of waste, emitting dangerous amounts of ammonia and smog-forming volatile organic compounds. Yikes.
Fifty-thousand cows are leaving southern California and heading our way in search of cheaper land. Given these projections, “Got milk?” is not the question. Got covers for feed? Got standards to limit air pollution for an area already beset by some of the highest rates of smog and asthma in the country? Got density limits for how many cows Fresno County can support per acre? Got clear, effective criteria to limit the impact these mega-dairies will have on our soil and water?
Unfortunately, the proposed first draft of the Fresno County staff’s dairy ordinance answers none of the questions above. These are the questions we must ask and that Fresno County has a moral, fiscal and public health duty to answer. The good news is that it can help answer them in a win-win scenario. Dairies can strengthen our local economy while at the same time inspiring other initiatives and other industries to factor in caring for the environment, rather than pretend it is impervious to our lack of concern. Fresno County needs to pass an environmentally sound ordinance, then serve as the lead agency to ensure compliance.
Such common-sense actions will protect our lungs and help prevent an increase in premature deaths. With a large percentage of Latinos living in rural areas, this population will be disproportionately affected by pollution from large dairies. Fresno County must be committed to the principle that a strengthened economy requires not only more jobs and revenue, but also concrete, life-sustaining measures for each and every one of us who eat food grown in our Valley’s soil, drink its water and breathe its air.
Rather than continually bemoan our county’s deficits and challenges, let’s become a leader in setting effective land use standards that contribute to better caring for God’s creation. Why not start with cows?
Show your support for clean air by joining me on Tuesday, April 10 at 6 p.m. at the county Plaza Ballroom at Tulare and M streets, Fresno, to ask our policymakers to make Fresno County safer.
Cynthia María Ovando-Knutson is a professor of Spanish language and literature at Fresno Pacific University. She has master’s degree from the University of California, Riverside, and is completing her Ph.D. in Spanish from the University of California, Irvine.