Lawyers fight about whether manure is health threat

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Farm Forum

PIERRE — Lawyers for livestock and poultry groups blocked testimony at a state permit hearing Wednesday about whether feedlot manure contributes to antibiotic resistance.

The hearing officer wouldn’t allow the presentation by Don Kelley, a licensed pathologist and medical doctor from Rapid City.

Kelley is the state chairman for Dakota Rural Action, a citizens group that emphasizes food and environmental safety.

Dakota Rural Action is contesting the state’s proposed updates for the general permit that covers confined animal feeding operations.

Hundreds of CAFO, mostly in South Dakota’s eastern half, are regulated under the general permit, rather than individual permits, for storing and disposing animal manure.

While the doctor’s testimony wasn’t allowed, the producer groups’ lawyers, Todd Wilkinson of DeSmet and Brian Donahoe of Sioux Falls, weren’t able to halt a ranch wife’s testimony about deadly circumstances involving a manure pit near Orient.

One of the farmers died and his brother is in a coma.

Hearing officer Catherine Duenwald allowed Kennette Rogers of rural Ree Heights to talk about the accident.

The man in the coma is married to a friend of Rogers.

Wilkinson, who raises cattle and is president of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, objected to Rogers talking about the matter.

Wilkinson said the accident didn’t have anything to do with the general permit. He called Rogers’ knowledge “double hearsay.”

Duenwald agreed it was double hearsay but said Rogers’ testimony would be given “the weight it deserves.”

On Tuesday the state feedlot permitting program’s administrator, Kent Woodmansey, said he didn’t know about the Orient incident.

Dakota Rural Action’s lawyer, Kelsea Sutton of Burke, asked Woodmansey about it.

On Wednesday, Sutton wanted Kelley to testify about antibiotic resistance.

But Wilkinson objected, saying the topic is beyond the scope of the regulations on CAFOs set by the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Sutton said the general permit directly deals with protecting health.

Duenwald turned to her left and privately conferred with Steve Pirner. As state secretary of environment and natural resources, Pirner will make the decision on the permit changes.

Donahoe then objected too, saying antibiotic resistance goes beyond the permit’s jurisdiction and isn’t subject to any scientific standards.

Sutton said Kelley would testify as to what other states have done.

Wilkinson replied, “The department has no jurisdiction to regulate antibiotic use on a permitted facility.”

Sutton countered, “It’s being spread through contamination of waterways.”

Donahoe said there aren’t “any clearly objective scientific standards” that would apply.

Sutton in turn said Dakota Rural Action wasn’t asking for adoption of any standards regarding antibiotics.

Duenwald spoke next. She said the state department doesn’t test for antibiotics in water at CAFOs.

“And it is irrelevant to the CAFO permit,” Duenwald said.

Sutton objected. Duenwald ruled, “Testimony is limited.” She allowed Kelley to testify generally about his concerns.

Kelley said CAFOs “very much” contribute to antibiotic resistance.

Duenwald said testimony about antibiotics in the water would be disregarded.

“That is beyond the scope of this hearing,” Duenwald said.

Sutton had pre-filed many pages of scientific materials on the topic that now couldn’t be used.

She asked Kelley about livestock manure based on his professional opinion and his experience in state water permits.

“I believe it is a threat,” Kelley said.

When their turns came to cross-examine Kelley, neither Wilkinson nor Donahoe chose to ask any questions.

Neither did Ellie Bailey, the lawyer representing the state department.

Later on Wednesday, Wilkinson tried to ask several of his witnesses about trees and their effect on odor.

Duenwald didn’t allow those questions to be answered because odor isn’t regulated under the general permit.

The hearing continues today.

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