In a sad but true experience, Richland, MI, farmer-feeder Walt Stafford lost 30 head of feeder cattle the night of May 30 after thieves left a fertilizer tank valve open and ammonia gas leaked into his finishing barn. By the time the gas dissipated, another 22 head had died and 40-50 more were permanently blinded by the fumes. There were 260 cattle in the barn, all just a month away from harvest.

Stafford's anhydrous ammonia tanks had been a frequent target of thieves looking for ingredients to cook methamphetamine (meth). The thieves dodged surveillance cameras and tapped into the tank, which was treated with GloTell, an additive that turns anything it touches bright pink. Meth cooks who use ammonia treated with GloTell are left with a gummy pink substance that renders the end-product unusable.

The GloTell helps, Stafford says, but the problem was the thwarted when thieves walked (or ran) from the opened tank.

“If there had been people in or around the barn, or had it happened near a house, the fumes could have killed or maimed everyone around,” he says.

Stafford says it's nearly impossible in the spring to secure the dozens of anhydrous nurse tanks scattered around the farm. Anhydrous thieves know every trick in the book in compromising locks, gates, shields and other security devices.

Adding insult to injury, Stafford had to have 200 yards of soil hauled off and disposed of as hazardous waste. The cattle had to be buried in an approved hazardous waste disposal site.

Stafford urges every cattlemen's group to review local, state and federal legislation designed to deter meth manufacture — and support stronger penalties associated with meth use. He says the first step is nationwide legislation restricting sales of pseudoephedrine (known generally by the brand name, Sudafed), an over-the-counter cold and allergy medicine — the key component in making the drug.

Stafford has law enforcement on his side, but he says too many rural people are apathetic to the problem. The Michigan State Police estimates 80% of its caseload is meth-related — with most production occurring in rural areas.

“Meth is the No. 1 drug in rural America — absolutely, positively,” says U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman Rusty Payne (see “Got Meth” BEEF, August 2004).

New laws can help

This spring, U.S. Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) introduced H.R. 314, the Combat Methamphetamine Act (CMA); as well as H.R. 13, the Clean, Learn, Educate, Abolish, Neutralize and Under-mine Production (CLEAN-UP) of Meth-amphetamine Act. He wants to establish a pilot program to provide targeted assistance to high-risk states with more than 200 meth lab seizures/year.

The CMA provides funding for law enforcement and prosecutorial training, and reclassifies pseudoephedrine as a Schedule V drug. This would require it be stored behind pharmacists' counters, making it more difficult to buy or steal for use in illegal meth manufacturing. The legislation also provides enhanced treatment options and services for children affected by meth.

Meanwhile, the CLEAN-UP Act includes provisions to clean farms and parks damaged by meth labs. It also provides assistance to rural schools and health care clinics to promote effective programs to keep children off meth.

“What happened on my farm is nothing compared to how this drug affects millions of people,” Stafford proclaims. “If we don't get a handle on it, meth will in some way come back to haunt virtually every farmer and rancher in America.”