Letter: With over 200 small farms unchecked, animal registry needed

Posted 9/18/19

To the editor:

At the recent public hearing for the proposed Keeping of Animal Regulation and Registry, Westport farmers indignantly charged the Board of Health with intent to trample on their …

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Letter: With over 200 small farms unchecked, animal registry needed


To the editor:

At the recent public hearing for the proposed Keeping of Animal Regulation and Registry, Westport farmers indignantly charged the Board of Health with intent to trample on their Fourth Amendment rights, destroy Westport’s Right to Farm status, and run farmers out of business with redundant, unnecessary regulatory overreach.

I will not comment about the fallacy of their Fourth Amendment argument, their right-to-do-whatever-we-want interpretation of the Right to Farm by-law, or their economic viability in the face of a no-fee registry, but will address their charges that the regulation and registry are unnecessary. Both are very necessary, most especially the registry, which will eventually add to BOH records several hundred “backyard” livestock farming operations, none of which have ever been inspected because they are not included in the annual state barn book inspection process.

Town livestock inspections are necessary because perhaps only a quarter of properties on which livestock is kept receive state inspection. Additionally, by law, thanks to the American Farm Bureau Federation lobby, none of the information garnered through state inspection can be shared with the town, even though it is the town that must pay for state inspections.

Farmers at last week’s rally would have us believe that all within their ranks are law abiding animal lovers — “the real animal advocates here in the room.” Over and over they expressed their disgust at “what happened on 177,” along with their ire at being “punished” for the actions of those “bad people.”

Make no mistake here. The Medeiros tenant farm tragedy was the catalyst for the push for an animal site registry, but it is not the reason. The reason is that, by Agricultural Commission Chairman Ray Raposa’s own estimation, there are “between 200-400 properties” in Westport that raise farm animals about which the town has no information.

Those of us who have spent the past three years fighting for the adoption of a livestock site registry have gone out of our way not to indict the larger farming community in this mess. At every turn, we have voiced our support and gratitude for our “good farmers.” Even though only two of those good farmers stood publicly with us (both run small, non-commercial operations). Even though not one commercial farmer publicly denounced the horrors found on the Medeiros property, that is, until last Tuesday when many stood to rail against a personalized perceived injustice.

Over the past three years, at least nine commercial farms in Westport have been cited, some repeatedly, over significant infractions — most for environmental degradation, waste run-off into streams and wetlands, and solid waste disposal issues. Yet at least three have been cited for public health risks and negligence associated with the poor condition and overcrowding of animals, one of which resulted in quarantine. I know this because I attend and watch vimeos of AgCom and BOH meetings, and read local papers.

A recent example can be readily accessed on the July 10 AgCom meeting vimeo. Beginning at 23:12 watch the discussion of a north Westport farmer’s overcrowding of his cattle and pollution of wetlands, a situation that’s been going on for a very long time and that BOH personnel described as “a disaster.” “As long as he’s farming there’s going to be an issue there,” concludes defeated Chairman Raposa.

At 26:38 the conversation turns to an Old Pine Hill Road dairy farmer whose neighbors have been complaining for years about the noxious odors from his property. The director of public health, along with an AgCom member and the animal control officer, went to see what the problem was this time around. Apparently the farmer “buries dead calves in a pile” near his back property line, covering them with “stuff from the barn, manure.” One AgCom member asks, “Why are there so many dead calves? Why are they dead?” The rest ignore her, as another member leans back in his chair chuckling, “If you leave ‘em for the coyotes, you don’t have to bury ‘em.” But all’s well that ends well as the farmer in question “got a good report,” probably because, as Chairman Raposa notes light-heartedly, the health director “had first been to north Westport, so what he found at [the Old Pine Hill Road farm] was a pleasant surprise.”

Perhaps a few folks within the farming community might be able to fathom why those of us who pay attention to livestock farming in our town have serious concerns about animal welfare, ground and surface water protection, and other issues of public health related to animals raised for their flesh and produce. It is truly unfortunate for all of us that the Westport farming community, as represented by those who attended the hearing last week, is dead set against a modest proposal that all who keep livestock provide the BOH with their names, addresses, emergency contact info, and the kind and approximate number of animals they have — and that a town animal inspector annually checks in on things.

While I believe that most Westport farmers take good care of their animals and land, there are clearly those who do not. Fact is, with several hundred backyard farms unaccounted for, we don’t know what’s happening, do we?

Sadly, in order to keep a town animal inspector from stepping foot onto their property, farmers are more than willing to leave that question unanswered.

Constance Gee


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