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E-M:/ Pamlico Sound and Michigan's Right to Farm Amendments



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Enviro-Mich message from "Tom & Anne Woiwode" <woiwode@voyager.net>
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In today's (Oct 9) Detroit Free Press, Hugh McDiarmid devotes part of his 
column to the Right to Farm Act revisions proposed in SB 205 (see
http://www.freep.com/news/politics/qhugh9.htm  )

His point on the effect of the pollution from hog farms in the wake of
Hurricane Floyd on Pamlico Sound in North Carolina comes through very
graphically in a photo and story on the Detroit News web site (see
http://detnews.com/1999/nation/9910/09/10090075.htm  )

The real tragedy of the debate on SB 205 in the Leglislature is that there
are ways that the problems facing family farmers in our state can be
addressed without throwing out all local authority over agricultural
operations, and swinging the door wide to totally unregulated factory
farming, which has destroyed the family farms in many states already.

MDA Director Dan Wyant is paraphrased in McDiarmid's column saying that what
has happened in North Carolina couldn't happen in Michigan "in part due to
development and population pressures in farming areas that drive up the land
costs."  Wyant's argument seems to be that corporate farmers can't afford to
BUY the land to build hog factories. But they don't NEED to buy the land.
Instead, as the farmers who have been made the spokespeople for these bills
have demonstrated, existing farmers are being convinced increasingly to
abandon their diversified traditional farming practices to build, at their
own costs, confined animal feeding operations, which virtually guarantee
their total dependence on the large corporations to whom they sell. That is
because the independent slaughter houses that used to buy from farmers with
smaller numbers of hogs are gone from Michigan entirely, making the cost of
shipping prohibitive.  If you don't "share crop" livestock with a
corporation, you are effectively out of luck.

With pigs this is particularly clear - farmers that used to start with sows
birthing baby pigs and raise them to slaughter now have just pigs in a
particular age range. One farmer has feeders, one finishes the pigs, and
none can operate independently anymore.  While this seems to bring some
financial security in the short run, it drastically increases dependence on
the corporation to whom the farmer has a contract, while the farmer carries
all the risk of the facility and operations.  You can bet, if the farmer
gets bad advice on building his lagoons for liquid manure storage, the
corporation that holds his or her contract will NOT be there to bail him or
her out if there is a problem from a spill or a leak. This has already been
seen in other states far too often.

Senator Gougeon, sponsor of SB 205, says in McDiarmid's column that this
preemption is essential to avoid a "hodge-podge of local ordinances that are
expensive and restrictive to the point of strangling the family farm."  What
he DOESN'T say is that the growth of regulation through local ordinances is
because the state has badly failed both farmers and communities statewide by
doing nothing to ensure that sound practices will be incorporated up front
so that farmers are actually using the best technology and tools to assure
that farms are good neighbors.  Farms have always been somewhat smelly and
messy, but ongoing farming activities are already protected from nuisance
claims because common law protects them.  The Right to Farm Act already
allows existing facilities to expand or be entirely transformed without so
much as a notification requirement to any state or federal agency whose job
is to protect the environment.  As it exists now, local ordinances provide
the ONLY opportunity to try to assure in advance that animal factories are
not going to destroy the environment, the quality of life or the property
values of a community.  That's because the State of Michigan voluntarily and
intentionally declined to show any leadership in protecting those interests
through mandatory state standards.

Why does anyone think it is better to wait for disaster to strike to learn
that the facility was built wrong, was built in the wrong place, was built
to the wrong size for the herd, etc.?  Who does it serve to play craps with
the health and well-being of not only the community, but the farmers who are
part of that community as well? The critical point here is not that all
farming needs regulations like these -- the point is that THESE large scale
animal factories do, and to now tell communities that not only will the
state abdicate its responsibility, it will also prevent communities from
protecting their interests is begging for disaster.

McDiarmid ends his column suggesting that he doesn't know for sure who is
right in this debate. I would guess that all of the readers of Enviro-Mich
understand that farmers are in crisis in our state and need help to assure
they can be viable participants in our economy.  SB 205 DOESN'T do that --
it weakens the few remaining strands in the safety net for real family farms
by guaranteeing that more and more farms will be at war with their
neighbors.  NO one in Michigan can possibly win in that game, except the
developers waiting to buy farm lands cheap to slap up houses, or
agribusinesses who can squeeze the last bit of life out of the farm family
before spitting them out and moving on with nary a kind word.

Anne Woiwode
Sierra Club

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