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E-M:/ MDA Director disputes MLUI report, but misses main point

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

MDA Director Dan Wyant criticizes report on agency oversight of livestock
factory; Response evades major criticisms, picks at minor details

In a press release issued Feb. 16, Dan Wyant, Director of the Michigan
Department of Agriculture "denounced" the report released by Michigan Land Use
Institute regarding the severe flaws in the agencies oversight of largescale
livestock operations.  The press release can be found at:


With all due respect to Director Wyant, who has consistently been given very
high marks on his work at the head of the MDA, I think it is important to
point out that his response failed to address the most significant concerns
raised by the MLUI report, while using semantics to make it appear that
several statements in the MLUI report are inaccurate.

The BIGGEST issue identified by the MLUI report is that the MDA has allowed
severe violations of environmental law and standards in largescale livestock
operations to fester, sometimes for years, before action is taken that results
in cleaning up the contamination and problems.  The 16 case studies cited by
MLUI are horror stories of environmental contamination, including of the water
supplies of towns, contamination of trout streams and spreading of disease to
other farms. The case studies document, direct from the files of the agency,
the failure to remedy these problems in a timely or complete fashion.
Director Wyant's response makes no mention whatsoever of this bottom line
finding, instead quibbling with relatively minor issues.

Among the issues disputed, the MDA response rewords issues in an attempt to
contend that MLUI misrepresented information, when in fact they did not.  For
example, the MDA claims that the they are not seeking to secure exemptions
from proposed federal standards.  In fact, the State of Michigan is attempting
the weaken the proposed federal strategy as a whole so that they fall to the
level of Michigan's standards, which are probably the weakest in the nation.

MDA also quibbles that Michigan is not a haven for ultra-large farms, but that
was not what MLUI said.  MDA cites stats from 1997, but the biggest concerns
have arisen since that time, including the loss of independent processing
facilities in the state that have forced smaller, independent family farmers
into either big operations or out of business.  The goal of raising these
concerns NOW is to stop a trend that is gaining speed in Michigan, and to plug
the huge policy loopholes that make Michigan a very attractive site right now
for siting of new, large scale livestock operations.

MDA also contends that the guidelines used under the Right to Farm law for
these facilities are not vague. In fact, the guidelines contain only 2
provisions that are mandates out of more than 3 dozen sets of guidelines.  The
real tragedy is that the guidelines are so vague that because these facilities
can be built on existing farms without any oversight whatsoever (including in
many communities no need for building permits) the operators may well
make drastic errors in their plans that guarantee contamination when put into
operation.  Again, the MDA's own files show that some operations have spent a
million dollars or more on facilities that are too small for the number of
animals they house, that were designed for warm climates so that in Michigan
the waste has had to be sprayed on frozen ground where it simply runs into
waterways, that put pipes direct from manure lagoons into ditches and
waterways, etc.

Lastly, the MDA contends the DEQ is adequately involved in the review of
complaints.  Again, the records speak for themselves, including astonishing
exchanges between MDA and DEQ in which MDA officials routinely tell DEQ
officials to butt out.  

The press release ends with a statement by Director Wyant that "The Michigan
Department of Agriculture is striking a balance between the farmer's right to
earn a living, and the ongoing need to properly manage animal waste to protect
water quality and the environment."  I think it is long since past time that
the State recognize that these are one in the same, and that Right to Farm
should not be used as an excuse to fail to protect the environment, but an
opportunity to do the best by all farmers and the communities they serve.  The
MLUI report showed that right now MDA lets bad actors slide, creating
additional pressure on good operators and small scale operators who are trying
to do the right thing.  Those problems can only be addressed if the MDA is
willing to accept responsibility for the many problems documented in the MLUI
report, and to begin to address those problems.

Anne Woiwode

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