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E-M:/ Organizing against Livestock Factories

Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org


Linda Rosenthal's observation about how bad the law is in Michigan is actually
an understatement, but there is hope brewing out in the rural areas where
these abominations are being built.  Last night I attended a meeting at with
about 40 people from about 10 different locales with these "confined animal
feeding operations" (CAFO's) either in operation now or being shoved down
their throats.  The stories are just unbelievable in a supposed democracy, but
these folks are fighting mad, and are getting organized.  If you wish
information about contacting them, please let me know and I will put you in

The Michigan laws are astonishingly bad on this front.  While the Michigan
Right to Farm Act was supposedly passed to protect small family farm
operations that are doing their best to comply with best management practices,
the loopholes are large enough to drive a convoy of double bottomed livestock
carriers through.  And livestock operations that are finding other states
wising up to their disgusting, polluting and arrogant ways are finding
themselves welcomed with open arms by Michigan's Department of Agriculture and
Dept. of Environmental Quality. Ironically, exactly this will probably do more
to drive the real family farmers out of business while corporate livestock
factories take their place.

What is wrong with the law?  For starters, despite the fact that these
livestock operations create a slurry of manure equivalent in many cases to the
amount of sewage produced by a city of 10,000 people or larger, there is
absolutely no advance requirements for how these facilities are to be built.
The law is intended to work through voluntary compliance with standard
acceptable practices.  Based on this, the law defers to the owners, often out
of state or even international corporations, to build the facility with no
permitting, no oversight, nothing in the way of checks on whether the
facilities will meet even the most minimal standards.  Local zoning
authorities are being told they, too, have no right to impose any requirements
on these facilities -- Dept. of Ag. and DEQ are helping deliver that message
loud and clear.

Once a facility is built, in order to get any review of whether a facility is
meeting voluntary compliance, a person who feels they aren't must file a
complaint with the Dept. of Agriculture.  Usually such a complaint is prompted
by the overwhelmingly sickening odor of the facility -- some folks talked
about children refusing to wait outside for the bus without a mask because of
the smell, others talk about being incapable of even gardening or having a
barbeque outside because it makes them physically ill.  Well contamination,
however, is in the future -- several folks were told their water wells end up
being the monitoring wells for contamination of groundwater -- when they get
sick, someone may do something. 

The Dept. of Ag will send out a bureaucrat to see if the complaint is valid --
I would be willing to bet that to date not a single complaint has ever been
upheld by the Dept. of Ag.  This is a critical problem because only when the
Dept. of Ag finds that a problem exists does any step get taken toward clean
up.  Even then, however, the process starts with jawboning the operation
(these are NOT farms, they are livestock factories, and no one should think
that this is a farm) and trying to convince them to do better.  The standards
that apply are what is called the Generally Accepted Agricultural and
Management Practices for Manure Management and Utilization, and is eye opening
as well.  You quickly notice that there are virtually no mandatory activities
in the entire 28 page document.  A lot of "shoulds" and a couple of "musts",
but the effect is that one could easily comply because there are very few
mandates.  Under the statute and the Memorandum of Understanding between the
Dept. of Ag and the DEQ, this can go on for 5 months before the referral goes
to the DEQ, which then can investigate any complaints.

There is a Catch 22 in this situation, however.  If the Dept. of Ag deems that
no problem exists, your only option is to file another complaint.  After three
complaints are filed, the operation you are complaining about can sue you for
harrassment.  That's right -- your right to petition the government for
redress of grievances is met with a threat that an international corporation
can take you to court.  God knows I hope this wasn't the intent of this law,
but it is in fact the effect.  While I am all for giving legitimate existing
small family farms relief from folks who move in next door and complain every
year about spreading manure on the field, the outrageous loophole basically
assures that the neighbors have no recourse whatsoever. As long as the Dept.
of Agriculture considers the smell of huge lagoons of pig or cattle manure in
slurry form, or in holding tanks under the facilities, or sprayed on fields to
be the smell of money, and they don't live next door to these facilities, it
is hard to envision that any neighbor's property rights, or just plain right
to a decent quality of life will be respected.

A lot of these folks have been told if you don't like it, move.  That is a
Catch 22 as well.  When houses near these facilities are put on the market,
the price is way down because of the horrible smell.  In one case a family is
now seeking relief from the tax tribunal after being unable to sell their
house to anyone. In another, a family received relief for a year, only to have
the tax tribunal raise taxes back up after locals complained about the

Folks, Michigan is on its way to be the "hog heaven" of America.  While the
rest of the country and many other countries have begun to address these
problems, here the red carpet is being rolled out.  What has been the response
from legislators so far?  Every card or letter has been greeted with a "talk
to the Dept. of Ag. about this" or a copy of the Right to Farm Act.  Take a
walk in the shoes of those who are bearing an outrageous burden so we can ship
cheap pork to Asia, get mass produced burgers and chicken, or have spiral hams
at the holidays.

If you are interested in knowing more about this, please let me know.

Anne Woiwode
Sierra Club

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