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Enviro-Mich message from Patty Cantrell <patty@mlui.org>

News Release
Monday, October 3, 2000

Patty Cantrell, Michigan Land Use Institute
231-883-4723 ext. 18, patty@mlui.org

New report confirms that Agriculture Department fails rural residents,
communities, farmers

	Two years after citizens called for an independent state review of the
Agriculture Department's livestock factory inspection program, the Michigan
Auditor General's office has found major flaws in the state's ability to
control dangerous odors and pollution from manure. The Auditor General
found that the state inspection program is not reliable because the
Agriculture Department dismisses complaints about manure management without
adequate investigation or evidence. 
	The Auditor General's report, made public on September 20, confirms all of
the major findings of a 1998 investigation by the Michigan Land Use
Institute, which was the first major probe of the state Department of
Agriculture's "Right to Farm" complaint response program. 
	Moreover, in a separate probe also completed last week, the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency concluded Michigan was "seriously lacking"
in its efforts to prevent pollution from large livestock factories,
otherwise known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.
To read the Auditor General's report, see pages 24-29 of:

To read the Institute's original investigation, please see
Part I at:
Part II at:

EPA's report is located at:
(Summary of findings on pp. 5-6)

	Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are actual factories with thousands
of animals under one roof and millions of gallons of manure stored in
football field-size pits and spread tons at a time on fields. Odors and
pollution from such facilities are hazards to neighbors' health, property
values, and quality of life. Rural communities across Michigan are
struggling to protect residents from livestock factory dangers as more of
the facilities replace family-scale farms and disrupt daily life in the
state's rural areas.
	 State Agriculture Department officials have consistently defended their
complaint response program as a national model. But the Auditor General's
report shows that the Agriculture Department, in fact, gives rubber-stamp
approval to too many of the operations it inspects. 
	1. The Agriculture Department closed as "unverified" 71 percent of the
odor complaints it received on the basis that agriculture inspectors could
not detect odor-causing problems. That's because inspectors arrived at
farms an average of 11 days after they received a complaint and as late as
23 days.  
	2. The Department closes complaints without adequate inspection and
evidence. For example, inspectors fail to check for key evidence, such as
soil test results, to determine if the farmer applies dangerous amounts of
manure to fields. The audit showed that inspectors tend to close cases
without demonstrating how they come to their conclusions that farm
operators are following the state's voluntary management guidelines.

	Vicki Pontz-Teachout, director of the Agriculture Department's
Environmental Stewardship Division, said the division's own analysis shows
its inspection turnaround time is closer to 7 days. "We've also added two
staff people in the meantime, which should help considerably in getting to
those complaints in a more timely fashion," she said.
	Patty Cantrell, an analyst with the Michigan Land Use Institute, said that
the real problem is not staffing levels but vague, unenforceable manure
management guidelines and lax inspections. 
	"The Auditor General's findings confirm the Institute's conclusions that
the Agriculture Department's inspection program puts neighbors, local
governments, and farmers at risk," she said. Cursory inspections put
neighbors at a severe disadvantage in court when they try to prove
legitimate nuisance claims. Local governments cannot rely on the state to
identify and resolve odor conflicts and pollution dangers that disrupt
their communities. And farmers are at risk because they may ultimately face
fines and legal action for pollution they could have avoided if the
Department of Agriculture had done its job. 

Patty Cantrell
Public Trust Alliance Project Manager
P.O. Box 228, 845 Michigan Ave.
Benzonia, MI 49616

tel: 231-882-4723 ext. 18
fax: 231-882-7350 
e-mail: patty@mlui.org
internet: www.mlui.org

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