On Thursday, March 3, Gov. Susana Martinez signed into law Senate Bill 72, another effort by New Mexico’s industrial dairy industry to immunize itself from responsibility for the pollution and nuisance created by these operations.
Many homeowners who live near dairies and other agricultural operations bought their homes decades ago, when nearby operations were much smaller and had little or no noticeable impact on surrounding areas. Now, the average New Mexico dairy has the largest herd size in the nation and produces more waste each day than a typical small city ― some of it sprayed into the air to fertilize fields.
New Mexico agricultural law was already extremely prohibitive of neighbors’ rights to seek compensation for the deteriorated air quality, manure dust and fly infestations from dairies and other operations that drive residential property values down. SB72 adds yet another immunity: agricultural operations cannot be sued for nuisance unless they have changed in both scope and nature. That goes not just for dairies but other agricultural operations, rural and urban.
“This new law provides the corporate agriculture industry almost absolute immunity against nuisance claims. This will severely limit the ability of longstanding New Mexico residents—who watch as the small dairy next door turns into a massive animal factory farm—to seek relief from the resulting pollution, odors and flies caused by the intensive, often cruel confinement of farmed animals,” said Jessica Johnson, chief legislative officer for Animal Protection Voters.
“So if a factory farm went from 400 cows to 2,000, will a judge decide that that’s a change in both nature and scope, or will it be just scope? Does a dairy have to become a pig farm and change its size in order to be held accountable for the damages it has caused its neighbors? We will be watching,” said Dan Lorimier of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter.
“The dairy industry in New Mexico is a billion-dollar industry, and is nothing akin to the family farm image it tries to project. The average factory dairy operation in New Mexico has 2,800 cows crammed into small enclosures with a corresponding concentration of manure production. These industrialized farming operations have an obligation to ensure that groundwater and air quality are preserved. Legislation such as SB72 makes it much more difficult for communities to protect their property values and way of life,” commented Eleanor Bravo, New Mexico organizer for Food & Water Watch.
“This doesn’t just apply to dairy operations. SB72 could result in devastating consequences for every property owner in New Mexico who never thought that their neighbor who boards a few horses (or chickens, goats, sheep) would expand into a business that boards, trains and transports dozens of animals, introducing the traffic, flies and manure that makes a backyard cookout a nightmare. This is happening in a neighborhood right here in Santa Fe County,” said the Rev. Holly Beaumont, organizing director for Interfaith Worker Justice — New Mexico.