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E-M:/ Muskegon Chronicle series on CAFOs by Jeff Alexander Sunday and Monday

The Muskegon (MI) Chronicle has published the first of a two day series called "Raising a Stink: The Factory Farm Debate" written by Jeff Alexander -- today there are 4 full pages devoted to 4 large articles ("Big Farms, Big Risks"; "Local farm the first to lose environmental certification"; "Livestock fumes carry more than foul odor"; and "Farms and Cities: which pollute more") along with additional information including a full page graphic showing how CAFOs work, listing and mapping all the ones located near Muskegon, their size and how much poop they produce, and disclosing that Michigan CAFO spread 2 million tons or 4 billion pounds of untreated manure on the land each year. Jeff Alexander has done an amazing job of corralling a wide array of very complex information into a very informative overview of the issue.


Tomorrow more stories are to run.  Today the editor of the paper wrote about the series, giving a glimpse of its extent (I have typed that in below). Unfortunately, M-Live (www.mlive.com/muchronicle) the web server for Muskegon Chronicle has NOT posted this important series on their website so far.  You may wish to join me in urging them to post the articles so that they can be accessed statewide -- go to http://www.mlive.com/contactus/



"Farm Stories 'raise a stink' about important issues"


By Paul M. Keep, editor of the Muskegon Chronicle



Now that you've washed your breakfast bacon and eggs down with a tall glass of milk, want to know more about the farms those products may have come from?


We're counting on it.


Reporter Jeff Alexander has written a fascinating and thought provoking package of stories The Muskegon Chronicle is publishing today and Monday.


The subject is the changing face of farming in Michigan and the impact that is having on our environment.


Among the most amazing things you'll learn is that some large farms in our area can generate as much manure as a city of 100,000 people.  That manure has to go somewhere and, therein, lies Jeff's story.


"Several of these farms in Michigan, including some in West Michigan, have had problems recently with manure draining off farm fields and causing water pollution," says Alexander, 44, a 15-year veteran of the Chronicle.


"We decided this was a good time to explore the economic forces in farming that are driving the construction of more 'factory farms,' and whether the huge quantities of manure these farms generate pose serious threats to the environment and public health."


He found a number of troubling unintended consequences resulting from the trend toward fewer and bigger farms.


But it wasn't easy.


"Farmers, in general, are very reserved and reluctant to speak to reporters," Alexander says.


Far from being an expert on farming, he knew he had to do extensive research.


"To educate myself, I read thousands of pages of government reports, reports from farm groups, environmental groups and scientific articles," he says.

"I also toured a large 'factory farm' in Muskegon County and pored over thousands of pages of government documents to determine which farms in our area were causing environmental problems."


He even used the state Freedom of Information Act to get data on West Michigan's largest farms.


"Those records showed which facilities were following the rules and which were causing water pollution," he says.


"The most illuminating records I turned up using FOIA were those that showed how much manure some farms generate.  One farm, the den Dulk Dairy in Ravenna, generates 18 million gallons of liquid manure annually, according to company records.  That's a lot of cow poop."


But the biggest obstacle was "trying to put this whole issue into some kind of meaningful perspective," Alexander says.


He found people have strong feelings on both sides of the issue of super-sized farms.


"I think the truth lies somewhere in between these diametrically opposed arguments," he says.


The biggest surprise to him was the relatively lax regulation of farms in Michigan compared to many other states.


"Farms are exempt from the state's air pollution control law, and local units of government have not say in where (the largest farms) are located,"

Alexander says.


The value of publishing reporting like Jeff's is that it raises important issues for public discussion.  Should be let things go on as they have, or is a change needed?


Whatever the ultimate outcome, I'm convinced this package of stories will contribute to a better understanding of a complex issue and help us focus on what is at stake.





Anne Woiwode, State Director

Michigan Chapter Sierra Club

109 E. Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906

517-484-2372   fax 517-484-3108




If the Green Revolution is a bloody pulp today, it is not just because the environmental movement mugged itself. It is because the corporate, political, and religious right ganged up on it in the back alleys of power.  

Bill Moyers, before the Society of Environmental Journalists, 10/1/05