Environment Column

New York State Fair traditions lack environmental consciousness

/ The Daily Orange

As the New York State Fair rolls around again this year, Syracuse University students may see it as an opportunity to eat as much fried food as possible and maybe listen to a set from one of the performers — if they don’t get lost venturing off-campus first.

As the fair celebrates 175 years of showcasing agriculture as well as entertainment, this year’s extensive schedule of livestock-centered events, including beef cattle-showing and dairy cow birthing, will be attractive to visitors to the fair. While educating fairgoers about livestock and the technology involved is admirable, these traditional agricultural events ignore a pressing topic: the environmental degradation resulting from our modern livestock industry.

Most New York state residents think of the recent controversy over the fair’s milk bar prices or Byrne Dairy when think of dairy farms. But right next to the rides and finger foods is a sinister hidden message: what most fairgoers probably don’t imagine is the repercussions that come with milking cows. Because of the way the fair perpetuates this culture, organizers should reconsider its inclusion and promotion of livestock events.

Behind California and Wisconsin, New York is the country’s 3rd largest milk-producing state as of 2016. Considering the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s lack of regulation in the state in regard to animal waste and manure spills, the expansion of factory farms in the upstate can only hurt the local environment and residents themselves.

Now let’s discuss manure for a second. While large amounts of waste can be used on nearby cropland, excess amounts are often sprayed. This leads to runoff and surface water pollution. A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. On these farms, the gases released by manure and manufactured fertilizers pack a dangerous punch: methane is 86 times more harmful than CO2 in terms of global warming potential.

What’s more is that farm workers and anyone involved in the livestock industry — common in New York due to the state’s strong agricultural ties — are subjected to the health risks that come with factory farms’ concentration of livestock excrement. Decomposing waste not only produces an odor, but also various noxious gases — over 160, to be specific.

There is the valid concern that New York would not be able to survive the steep decline in livestock jobs that would come with cutting dairy from our economic diet. Still, fair organizers and factory farm owners should move toward creating jobs in a more environmentally ethical way.

Of course, the United States’ ingrained dependence on milk itself can be seen as problematic. While humans shouldn’t necessarily eliminate all dairy products from our diets, we must be aware of the environmental repercussions of our consumption choices if we are passionate about healing the planet for generations to come — a mission we can confront head-on by limiting how much we patronize livestock events like those at the fair.

The fair was founded on values of promoting agriculture and household manufacturers in the state, and that still rings true today. But ultimately, our dairy industry no longer sticks to the small-farm traditions of the 19th century. The dairy industry holds thousands of animals in concentrated facilities, powered by cheap fuel and cheap feed while disregarding what is best for the environment. Just some food for thought.

Victoria Chen is a senior international relations major, and an environment and society minor. Her column appears weekly. She can be reached at vlchen@syr.edu.


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