February 27, 2013

Panel Featuring Food Fight Author Dan Imhoff to Explore Disconnect in Our Food System Mar. 21

National Author, Michigan Farmers and Advocates Focus on Safe Food 
Contact: Gail Philbin, 312-493-2384, gail.philbin@sierraclub.org

East Lansing, Mich.—Michigan consumers seeking safe, locally-grown, healthy food at farmers markets and other outlets are currently forced to subsidize corporate agricultural giants through taxpayer subsidies. An expert panel sponsored by a new sustainable agriculture coalition, Less = More, will address the situation and opportunities to change the food system and the federal Farm Bill to better serve consumers.

Who:  Daniel Imhoff, Food Fight author/farmer; Gail Hansen, Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming; Joe Maxwell, The Humane Society of the United States; Lynn Henning, 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize winner and Sierra Club activist, and Maynard Berry, Michigan sustainable livestock farmer. Note: Panelists are available for interviews. Contact Gail Philbin for details.

When:  7:00 pm, Thursday, March 21, 2013

Where:  B119 Wells Hall, Michigan State University, East Lansing (Wells Hall is at the corner of North Shaw and Red Cedar Roads)

Nationally known author and farmer Daniel Imhoff joins other farmers and experts to explore the disconnect in our food system and how to begin to create a fair playing field for sustainable livestock farmers in the discussion, Less=More: Restoring the Balance to Our Food System.  The event is free and open to the public.  RSVP by Mar. 18 to gail.philbin@sierraclub.org or 312-493-2384.

Most industrial livestock ‘farms’ operate like a factory and confine animals in warehouses or crowded feedlots with no vegetation. Although they generate millions of gallons of waste, these facilities receive substantial taxpayer subsidies even when they pollute the water, air and land through poor disposal of that waste, violating state and federal environmental laws. Meanwhile, farmers with good practices that produce healthy, clean food and don’t harm our natural resources struggle to survive.

Less=More: Restoring the Balance to Our Food System will look at the economic, environmental and health impacts of polluting livestock factories and how taxpayer subsidies perpetuate their existence. The panel, hosted by a new sustainable agriculture coalition called Less=More, will also look at ways to address the unfair advantage these subsidies give factory farms over sustainable livestock farms, including recommendations from the coalition’s recently released report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, available at www.MoreforMichigan.org.
Daniel Imhoff, Co-founder of Watershed Media and an author and farmer—Imhoff will discuss the economics of factory farms and the Farm Bill. He is an author, publisher and small-scale farmer in California who has focused for more than 20 years on issues of food, agriculture and the environment. Co-founder of Watershed Media and Wild Farm Alliance, he has written many articles, essays, and books, including Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill; CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, and Farming with the Wild.

Gail Hansen, Senior Officer and Staff Veterinarian, Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, Pew Charitable Trusts—Hansen looks at the role factory farms play in antibiotic resistance and other health impacts. Hansen served as the state epidemiologist and state public health veterinarian for 12 years with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment where her work centered on infectious diseases and developing public health policy. Prior to that, she was a principal investigator and coordinator of blood borne pathogen studies at the Seattle and King County Department of Public Health. She has served on or chaired numerous state and federal infectious disease committees, served as a scientific advisor for national and international conferences and is adjunct faculty at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Joe Maxwell, President of Outreach and Engagement at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—Maxwell examines the lives of animals and farmers in the factory farm system. He grew up on a family farm in the small town of Rush Hill, Mo., the son of a hard-working family farmer. In his role at The HSUS, he works directly with family farmers, helping them organize into producer groups to open direct markets for their own products. Maxwell is a former president of the Association of Family Farmers, an organization associated with the Agriculture of the Middle Project, and a member of the Organization for Competitive Markets and the Missouri Farmers Union.

Lynn Henning, Sierra Club Water Sentinel—Henning will discuss the relationship between environmental pollution and farm subsidies in Michigan. She received the 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America for more than a decade’s worth of work tracking environmental abuses at factory farms around her small family farm in south central Michigan. Her painstaking research is the basis of the Less=More report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape. She’s been featured in O Magazine and the 2013 water documentary Last Call at the Oasis and appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher in 2012.

Maynard Beery, Beery Farms of Michigan-- Beery raises grass-fed beef and goats in Mason, MI and will give the perspective of a sustainable livestock farmer on how the lopsided subsidy system affects his ability to compete with industrial livestock operations. A former large-scale livestock confinement operator, he switched to humane, environmentally friendly farming more than a decade ago. He uses the Argentine grazing style of a diverse array of perennial grasses and summer-winter annuals to meet year-round forage needs of the animals, and his farm is in transition to organic certification.

The Less=More Coalition is a group of organizations engaged in various aspects of our food system who seek to level the farm field for sustainable farmers in Michigan. They include: Beery Farms of Michigan, LLC, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, LLC, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Zeeland, The Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Farmers Union, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.  Learn more at www.MoreforMichigan.org.

February 15, 2013

Taxpayer Subsidies Reward Polluters, Promote Industrial Mega-Farms

New Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Calls for Reforms of Funding Priorities for Michigan Farm Subsidies

Feb. 15, 2013                                        

Media Contact: Gail Philbin, 312-493-2384

Lansing, Mich.—Taxpayers are providing millions of dollars in government subsidies to industrial mega-farms in Michigan under policies that unfairly favor corporate agricultural giants while ignoring massive pollution and health risks, and undermining safe, sustainable farms that are growing in consumer popularity, according to a report released today by a new sustainable agriculture coalition.

Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, a report issued by Less=More, a new coalition supporting sustainable farming in Michigan, offers a window into the bias of one specific federal Farm Bill program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).  Since 1995, under this program Michigan factory farms (also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs), have raked in millions of dollars of tax subsidies that are inaccessible to sustainable and organic livestock operations. This inequity keeps prices for factory farm products artificially low compared to healthier, locally grown meat, dairy and egg products, and increases threats to health and the environment by encouraging more massive, concentrated livestock facilities.

“Families and businesses that support local, sustainably grown foods deserve to know that millions of dollars of our federal taxes are supporting polluting factory farms here in Michigan,” said Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter director. “That hurts our environment, the public’s health and Michigan farmers who work hard to provide us with clean, healthy food,”

Most CAFOs look and operate more like a factory than a farm, confining livestock in warehouses often for their entire lives or in crowded, open feedlots with no vegetation. These mega “farms” receive substantial taxpayer subsidies even when poor disposal practices of the millions of gallons of chemical- and contaminant-filled wastes they generate lead to pollution of water, land and air, and violations of state and federal environmental laws.

“This lopsided support happens at a time when many independent, environmentally responsible farmers whose practices don’t pollute are struggling to make ends meet,” said Sandy Nordmark, vice president of the Michigan Farmers Union. “It’s also taking place at a time when Michigan consumers want more products from sustainable farmers, not less. Direct sales at farmers markets, local stores, restaurants and through community supported agriculture are one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural community.”

According to Restoring the Balance, 37 Michigan factory farms cited for environmental violations and unpermitted discharges over the 15 years ending in 2011 were awarded nearly $27 million in Farm Bill subsidies between 1995 and 2011.  Of these operations, 26 jointly racked up fines and penalties of more than $1.3 million for their share of these violations.

Under the Michigan EQIP program, administered by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service Michigan office, dramatic disparities in funding exist between practices used exclusively by CAFOs, such as waste lagoons, and those used by sustainable livestock operations to achieve similar goals.  The report also documents environmental problems and threats posed by factory farm practices and structures funded by EQIP, and provides case studies with real world examples of the problems.

“Michiganders should know that something can be done to fix this uneven playing field. Less support to factory farms means a more sustainable, greener Michigan,” said Sierra Club’s Woiwode. “We invite supporters of sustainable and organic, locally grown foods to join the Less=More Coalition to help bring that change about.”

Restoring the Balance explains that the State Conservationist of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Michigan, with advice from a state Technical Committee, has the needed authority to correct the system that puts farmers devoted to sustainable rearing of animals at a disadvantage while rewarding polluting industrial operations that harm the environment and threaten public health.

In a meeting with NRCS State Conservationist Garry Lee on Feb. 14, the Less=More Coalition presented its finding and urged him to take action. The coalition recommendations include:

  • Require CAFO applicants to list all citations for any environmental or health-related law violation;
  • Require CAFO applicants to document compliance with state and federal environmental laws, including keeping up-to-date records and Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans, which guide handling of animal waste;
  • Institute accountability into the system through:
          o  Requiring an independent verification of whether or not operators complete work as funded;
          o  Withhold funds until all prior subsidized work is documented;
          o  Require testing of the effectiveness of practices, both in general and at specific sites, with
              independent scientific committee to review and approve practices authorized for subsidies;
          o  Eliminate practices from EQIP funding that do not provide environmental benefits.
  • Restructure the ranking system to invest the majority of EQIP funds into practices designed to achieve program’s environmental objectives, including fully funding planning based on practices for traditional sustainable livestock and certified organic livestock farms just as factory farm Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans are funded;
  • Provide training to District and County Conservationists in sustainable practices so they can objectively assess proposed projects;
  • Make it a priority for local and district conservationists to reach out to sustainable farmers in their region and educate them about the funding opportunities available through EQIP, and
  • Streamline paperwork for organic farmers applying for EQIP by allowing use of some of their organic certification documentation in EQIP application.

An abstract of Restoring the Balance is attached and the full report is available at:  http://michigan.sierraclub.org//pdfs/moreformichigan/moreformichigan.htm.

For questions, contact Sandy Nordmark, Michigan Farmers Union, 269-979-3968; and Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club, anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org or 517-484-2372.

The Less=More Coalition is a group of organizations engaged in various aspects of our food system who seek to level the playing field for sustainable farmers in Michigan. They include: Beery Farms of Michigan, LLC, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, LLC, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Zeeland, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Farmers Union, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.

Less support for factory farms means a more sustainable Michigan. Visit www.MoreforMichigan.org.