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Goat Dung Soup: Coast Road resident Valerie Valdez (right) discusses polluted runoff near her home with a neighbor.


Feedlot Fiasco

The goats at Santa Cruz Biotechnology's North Coast facility produce antibodies used in cancer research. But at the rate the herd is contaminating storm runoff with fecal coliform bacteria, the company may soon be able to enter a new market: antibodies for goat feces-related infections.

In response to the ranch's ongoing water-quality problems, the Board of Supervisors on March 7 directed the County Environmental Health Service to issue Biotech owners John and Brenda Stephenson a Notice of Violation of the State Health and Safety Code. Citing bacterial levels "well above the body contact standard of 400 cfu/100 ml, and well above levels found concurrently in other nearby waterways," the notice instructed Biotech to collect and analyze water samples for fecal coliform bacteria from areas of the ranch thought to be sources of pollution and to "submit a comprehensive plan and proposal for measures to be implemented to eliminate the pollution prior to October 1, 2000."

The notice adds another chapter to the long-running water-quality drama surrounding Santa Cruz Biotech. Last October, the Regional Water Quality Board ordered the company to conduct tests on water samples from riparian corridors flowing from the company's 308-acre feedlot. The orders were ignored, prompting neighbors to hire their own consultant, whose tests revealed the coliform count to be off the charts. A test by Environmental Health later confirmed high levels of coliform bacteria.

In a Feb. 18, 2000, letter to Biotech exec Matt Mullin, the Health Service asked Biotech to "identify and implement additional measures for water quality protection" no later than March 6.

Explaining why Biotechnology was issued a Notice of Violation, Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt noted Biotech's persistent inability to

resolve the pollution problem. "It was time to officially put them on record that it was problematic," Wormhoudt says.

If Biotech fails to resolve the problems, says Environmental Health Director Diane Evans, "We're going to be meeting with the staff of the Regional Board to try and come up a strategy--should a strategy be necessary."

Got Beer?

Milk-mustached college coeds are so five minutes ago. The new substitute for the white stuff? Beer.

Just in time for St. Paddy's Day, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals launched a new campus crusade this week, releasing results of a moo-ving study (sure to meet with disapproval from Mothers Against Drunk Driving) showing that beer is better than milk.

"Colleges have been busy banning kegs from campus," says PETA's college action campaign coordinator, Morgan Leyh. "But we say ditch the dairy, not the beer."

To further promote the "Got Beer?!" campaign, PETA is giving away bottle openers (available at www.MilkSucks.com) that say, "Drinking Responsibly Means Not Drinking Milk--Save a Cow's Life." As if students need extra incentive to crack open a cold one.

Dairy Farmers of America aren't raising a pint to celebrate.

"I think it's just horrible. They are encouraging young people to drink beer," says David Parish, vice president of the ADF's western region. "The health benefits of milk are well known. These people have a total different agenda, and they are treading on our good name."

According to PETA, studies link milk to several diseases, including stroke, iron deficiency, allergies, cancer, asthma, heart disease and the common cold. "We want students to know that even drinking beer is healthier than drinking milk," Leyh says.

But PETA's real beef has to do with the treatment of cows and calves. Its website graphically describes the horrors of dairy-cow life. Mommy cows are "treated like nothing more than a milk machine," their "genetically modified udders" hanging to the floor, dragging on feces- and urine-covered cement, have their male calves ripped away from them before they are two days old, then "chained inside cramped dark crates to be killed for veal."

"Baloney," says Jim Tillison, CEO of the Sacramento-based Alliance of Western Milk Producers.

"No industry has higher health standards than the dairy industry," Tillison asserts, "but more importantly, the better a cow is kept, the healthier a cow is, the more milk she will produce. Dairy cows are happy cows. They have obviously never been on a dairy farm."

Tillison says farmers would welcome PETA members to visit dairy farms--although it's doubtful they'll be getting together for a brew afterwards.

Berries of Wrath

The state Department of Pesticide Regulation wraps up its public comment period this week on proposed methyl bromide regulations, but according to a new study, the state's rules leave children, neighbors and farm workers at risk.

"We're really disappointed," says Bill Walker, the California director of the Environmental Working Group, the nonprofit research organization that published the March 2 study. "We have been fighting for tougher regulations for years, ever since the state refused to ban [methyl bromide] in 1996."

Opponents say the proposed rules need larger buffer zones to increase the distance between fumigation and neighboring properties. The DPR is proposing buffer zones ranging from 60 to 100 feet.

The EWG recommends banning methyl bromide at all times within 1,000 feel of schools, day-care centers, nursing homes and residences. It also argues for longer time periods between farmers fumigating the fields and children returning to the classroom.

Current regulation is on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the county agricultural commissioner. The DPR is proposing a mandatory 36-hour delay before returning to the classroom.

According to the EWG's study, air-monitoring tests by both the state and the EWG reveal that methyl bromide fumes persist for at least 48 hours.

"We set up air-monitoring equipment at Salsipuedes Elementary in Watsonville," Walker says. "More than 48 hours later, there were still high levels of methyl bromide on the school grounds."

Glenn Brank, spokesperson for the DPR, says further state studies show the proposed rule provides adequate protection for the surrounding community.

"It's a political decision--it's not based on sound science," counters Jim Scott-Behrends, co-chair of Farms Without Harms. "It's a way to continue to allow growers to fumigate near schools."

The Department of Pesticide Regulations hearing will be held on March 16 at 6pm in the Arts Building at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds, 2601 E. Lake Ave., Watsonville.

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From the March 15-22, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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