Lawsuit Temporarily Shuts Down Industrial Chicken Operation in Scio

What is the situation?

In late 2022, FoFF joined a group of Scio residents and Center for Food Safety in a lawsuit against the Oregon Department of Agriculture in response to their choice to grant a permit to an industrial scale chicken operation in Scio, OR. This was one of three proposed facilities moving into the area (announced in 2022) in short order that sparked community outcry and fed into the passage of SB 85 in 2023. It would have raised 580,000 chickens at a time (in 6 rounds per year, totalling 2.4M birds in a confinement system). Although this would have been one of the largest on record in Oregon history, it was actually the smallest facility of the 3 that were proposed. The permit for this facility, called J-S Ranch, was approved just before discussion of changes to the CAFO program heated up in the 2023 legislative session, but construction did not move forward because of the lawsuit filed by our group and partners. 

This lawsuit exemplifies something that our organization and partners have been saying for a long time: following the letter of the law as it is currently written is not adequate to protect our shared air and water resources from contamination from industrial facilities like this. We made the argument that the permits from the department only dealt with groundwater contamination and that it did nothing to prevent the possible surface water contamination of the Santiam river, only 400 yards away. Facilities of this size produce a great deal of waste which has the potential to create air contaminants that can dissolve in water easily over the distances at hand here. Oregon’s CAFO program does not currently regulate air emissions from facilities at all. This lawsuit sought to prove that this permit as it stands was not adequate to protect the public waters of Oregon and would have posed a risk to the health and wellbeing of the community. You can read more in this recent OPB article.

This lawsuit was supposed to go to trial next week, but it has been put on hold because ODA has decided to reconsider the permit as issued. The Department will have 6 months to reconsider the permit terms at which point the lawsuit may go forward, or may not, depending on the environmental impact of the revised permit.

Why is FoFF involved?

Friends of Family Farmers was founded in 2005 to stand with small farmers and rural communities that have their air, water, and soil quality threatened by the proliferation of large scale, industrial agribusiness. We live this through our continued efforts to hold big ag operations accountable for the environmental and social impact they have while also building incentives for good practices and providing alternatives to build a thriving community food system in Oregon. 

Part of this commitment has been our ongoing efforts with the Stand Up to Factory Farms Coalition. This group of nonprofit organizations has been bringing discussions of a moratorium on the largest permit tier of CAFOs in Oregon since it was formed in response to the Lost Valley disaster in 2018. We have also been looking for opportunities like this lawsuit to challenge the system as it stands and strengthen regulations on the largest operations for the sake of our communities, environment, and future ability to farm in Oregon. We know that farmers are ultimately land stewards. Farmers in our network come to FoFF because they see working lands as a potential for mitigating climate change, building resilience, increasing biodiversity and creating a more liveable future for everyone in Oregon. But we also know that farmers look to institutions in our state government to tell them when their practices put environments and their neighbors at risk. This lawsuit was not an attack on a specific farm, it was against the Department of Agriculture for not holding high enough standards in their process to ensure that soil, air and water quality are upheld by their programs. 

What does this mean going forward?

This permit is being revisited by ODA (in partnership with DEQ) and we are waiting to hear what changes they would like to make. There is a deadline of 6 months to make those revisions and we will be sure to update you when more information is available.