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In its investigation of the state's oversight of factory farms, the Wisconsin State Journal found:

INFREQUENT INSPECTIONS: Inspection of the state's factory farms is infrequent because of a state Department of Natural Resources inspection staff that has not grown along with the number of the big farms. Many of the farms are inspected just once every five years despite the millions of gallons of manure the farms spread on fields every year and the threat to neighboring wells.

STATE ACCEPTS ALL: No permit requests have been turned down by the DNR, nor have any permits been pulled when farms violate the terms of the permits. Even repeated violations have gone unpunished. Wisconsin's permissive approach contrasts with Illinois, where a quarter of all permit requests have been turned down since 1996.

UNAPPROVED EXPANSION: Some farms have simply expanded without first obtaining the necessary permits from the state. A review of DNR data show 16 pending applicants were already operating above the 700-cow limit, beyond which a permit is required.

NO GROUNDWATER MONITORING: The DNR does not require most farms to monitor groundwater beneath fields on which they are spreading manure or near neighboring private wells. The agency does recommend that homeowners near the farms get their own water tested.

INDUSTRY INFLUENCE: The DNR's oversight of factory farms is strongly influenced by the Dairy Business Association, a powerful agri-business lobby that has worked closely with the DNR to speed the permitting process and encouraged approval of a more streamlined "general" permit that would make it even easier for farms to gain approval. The lobbying group has been heavily involved in writing factory farm rules at both the DNR and the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

FAVORABLE SITING LAWS: A DATCP siting law approved four years ago has made it easier to locate factory farms. Local communities encouraged to adopt the siting law have found it gives them little say in where or how a farm expands.

- Ron Seely

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