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Forum Speaker to Address Lack of Ag Regulation

Gordon Stevenson recalls that when he started his career with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in the 1980s, conservatives referred to the agency as Do Nothing Right and Damn Near Russia.

“Very conservative interests in this state were in favor of local control. They didn’t like state control and they really didn’t like federal control,” said Stevenson, who served as chief of runoff management for the state when he retired at the end of 2010. “The folks who didn’t like regulation were advocates for local control. And, of course, in those days local control was code for no control.”

Stevenson traces the ability to fast-track sweeping environmental legislation to the “sea change” that took place in 1995 during the Tommy Thompson administration when appointment of the secretary of the DNR was removed from the responsibility of the Wisconsin Natural Resources Board and given to the governor.

“When the DNR secretary became appointed by the governor rather than appointed by a citizen board, all kinds of things changed. The advocacy of local control for central control switched over at that same time,” he said.

“There has been a complete switch in the approach that certain business interests, say mining, have taken in how they pursue things politically,” Stevenson continued. “They discovered, particularly when they have their friends in office, you can organize yourself and hire some talented lobbyist types or some attorneys, go and see a few people and you’re not regulated any more. It’s not just mining interests, it’s certainly true for agricultural and manufacturing interests. Right now decisions are made in accordance with cronyism. It’s very clear.”

Stevenson is one of five speakers at the Rural Health Dilemma forum about the impacts of modern agriculture on health and quality of life, to be held Nov. 16 at Stone Harbor Resort, Sturgeon Bay.

“I’m going to be basically discussing agricultural runoff and its role both in environmental health and/or degradation, as well as human health,” Stevenson said. “Farmers will tell you they are over-regulated, but, statistically speaking, agriculture is not regulated at all, in this state and most states. In fact, some of the best regulation now is under local control. Door County is a good example. You have a very good Soil and Water Conservation Department. They have done a very responsible job. I’m going to be talking about that.”

Other forum speakers include:

Dr. Jeanne Hewitt of the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee Children’s Environmental Health Sciences core Center speaking on Key Environmental Exposures to Children Living in Agricultural Area; Steve Roach, public health director of Food Animal Concerns Trust, speaking on Public Health Risks from Food Animal Pathogens; Dr. Keeve Nachman of the Center for a Livable Future at John Hopkins University, on The Ills of Industrial Food Animal Production; and Dr. John Ikerd, professor emeritus of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri – Columbia, speaking on the Fallacies of CAFOs.

To register for the Rural Health Dilemma forum, send an email with Health Forum in the subject line
 to [email protected]. You’ll receive an online form that will give you options to pay with a credit card or to download and print a form to send with your check. Registration fee is $35 per person and includes lunch (vegetarian and gluten-free choices available).