Citizens throughout the state subject to the abuses of the industrial farm model, known as CAFOs, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, were infuriated as the fast-tracked bill SB808/AB894, authored by Senator Howard Marklein and Representatives Travis Tranel and Gary Tauchen, made its rounds recently, threatening those living near such agricultural complexes.

Many components of the bill would have made it even harder for town or county boards to protect their communities through livestock siting. Collaborators in writing the bill included the Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Wisconsin’s Cattleman’s Association, Dairy Alliance of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Pork Association, Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants, and surprising to some Wisconsinites, the Wisconsin Towns Association and Wisconsin Counties Association.

While the bill did not successfully move forward, it should cause great concern to all Wisconsinites that believe in the democratic process and the merits of making public comment in our state.

The livestock siting hearings that took place around the state last summer into early fall brought out a multitude of citizenry publicly testifying to the serious issues revolving around industrial agricultural complexes and the very real threats that they present including tainting our air and water, significantly lowering property values, health threats and quality of life issues for those who live near and must endure the consequences as such.

While industry interests echoed the continued false rhetoric, relating those discontented individuals are former suburbanites that have moved out to the country and are “anti-farming,” nothing could be further from the truth.

In fact, Representative Tranel, supporting the industry-stacked deck proposed for a new Livestock Facility Technical Review Board, stated “those groups” should “have a seat at the table as opposed to people from our more urban areas trying to tell those of us from rural areas what we should and shouldn’t do.” Many citizens who spoke at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection livestock hearings were life-long rural residents and farmers themselves.

It is only with disgust that those of us who valued DATCP opening up the process of public hearings on livestock siting, after over a decade of not choosing to do so, had to watch the fallout that ensued, which included the firing of DATCP Secretary-designee Brad Pfaff and the resulting shelving of that commentary and any actions within DATCP to address it, due to what certainly appeared to be political influence and industry lobbying.

Never mind that those living in CAFO alley, northeast Wisconsin, with the highest density of industrial dairy CAFOs in the Midwest, had to travel multiple hours roundtrip to take advantage of the democratic process and the belief that our concerns would be heard, despite DATCP not incorporating a user friendly area for those most tremendously impacted by factory farms and their pollution.

The actions that took place at the Capitol last month regarding this bill bring about the more serious issue of the complete breach of trust that took place, ultimately using citizens’ own comments in fashioning a bill that would further take away the few tools citizens and communities have to protect themselves from corporate interests that have come to dominate the landscape and people living in our beautiful state, and the devastating results to Wisconsin’s formerly swimmable, fishable, drinkable waters.

The American dream we all believed still existed and could be found in what was formerly known as the good life in rural areas has been replaced with the unsettling threats founded in a way of farming that has the potential to do great harm to both the people and natural resources of Wisconsin. Shame on the people who drafted and supported this bill and the lobbying interests beholden to nothing more than their bottom line, while the great state of Wisconsin’s rural areas suffer the consequences of the corporatization of our state’s proud heritage, farming.

Nancy Utesch is a farmer from Kewaunee.