The Least Possible Information

WGTB logo PNG 112x89 Post 29 in a series. When Green Turns Brown is an examination of a small town’s digester-energy project, in which Whitewater, Wisconsin would import other cities’ waste, claiming that the result would be both profitable and green.

There is a story, an editorial, and an editorial reply at the Janesville Gazette about concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In effect, CAFOs are factory farms with thousands of animals.

There’s a factory farm near Bradford, the owners (from Nebraska) want another one in Green County, and the Gazette aims to reassure anyone in Green County who might accidentally stumble on the Gazette that a factory farm nearby would be just delightful.

The story is Does it smell? Neighbors to 5,000 cows get questions from neighbors of proposed farm (subscription req’d). The editorial is Our Views: Green County residents should welcome big dairy (subscription req’d). In reply, Kara O’Connor, representing small farmers in Wisconsin, writes Local views: New giant dairy would benefit Nebraska family, not Green County.

Part, but not all, of a waste-importation plan would likely rely on trucking waste from CAFOs into Whitewater.

An examination of CAFOs is a big subject, one that I will undertake later in this series. Wisconsinites, both researchers and ordinary residents, have spent thousands of hours studying concentrated animal feeding operations and their effects on human health and the environment. If anything, that’s a conservative estimate of the amount of time collectively spent.

If one read only the Gazette‘s story and editorial, one wouldn’t know about any of that research. One would have only a tissue-thin story about how a few residents are quoted as saying that a nearby factory farm doesn’t smell so bad. Smell, as though the risks were only those of odor (one that commenters point out is far worse than the reporter’s few quotes suggest).

The original story, by the way, looks like an intentional downplaying of risks so that the paper’s editorial board could flack a local big business’s efforts for another factory farm (‘see, it’s not so bad’).

Go ahead, read all three and compare.

What’s telling here is that if one read only the Gazette‘s story and editorial, one would have no idea about the widespread criticism of these huge farms. (In fact, even O’Connor’s reply highlighting problems is brief and mild compared with accounts across the state.)

Downplaying criticism is effective for factory farmers only if information about hazards to people and the environment can be concealed.

It can’t be.