September 12, 2013

Milking the System: Polluting Factory Farms Flourish in Gratiot and Midland Counties Courtesy of Taxpayers

Sep. 12, 2013                                                           Media Contact: Gail Philbin
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                              312-493-2384, gail.philbin@sierraclub.org

Milking the System: Polluting Factory Farms Flourish
in Gratiot and Midland Counties Courtesy of Taxpayers

Alma, Mich.—Factory farms in Michigan are “milking the system,” receiving taxpayer-funded subsidies even when violating environmental laws and unfairly competing against sustainable livestock operations, according to an updated report from the Less=More Coalition released in Alma today. 

Two of the nation’s most respected experts on factory farms or concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) -- Joe Maxwell, a Missouri hog farmer and an official with the Humane Society of the United States, and 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize winner Lynn Henning, a Lenawee County farmer who works with Sierra Club -- also gave an overview of the environmental, health and economic problems these facilities pose. A driving tour of some of the factory farms which exemplify the concerns in Midland and Gratiot Counties immediately followed the press conference. 

Less=More, a coalition of farmers, food safety, environmental and animal welfare organizations, is calling on federal and state officials, in particular the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) Michigan State Conservationist, to fix the unfair bias in farming subsidies toward factory farms. 

“We released our report seven months ago, and nothing has changed, especially in Gratiot and Midland Counties, home to 24 CAFOs,” said Henning. “Together, factory farms in these two counties raked in $11,243,026 in subsidies from 1995-2012.”

Since 1996, 14 of these Gratiot and Midland County facilities have been cited for environmental violations, with one of those receiving fines and penalties of $45,344. Yet from 1995 to 2011, owners and operators of these facilities in violation received $4,793,488 in taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, released by Less=More in February this year, was updated today with an in-depth case study examining the Mibelloon Dairy, LLC, and four affiliated businesses in Gratiot and Midland Counties. From 2001 to 2012, they received $744,941 in federal farm subsidies and tax-subsidized loans of $5,000,000.  During that same time period, Mibelloon Dairy, LLC, was cited by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for environmental violations in 2004, and in a 2008 administrative consent order with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), it was assessed fines and fees of $45,344 related to five separate incidents. 

“The Mibelloon operations are another example of the unfair advantage our tax dollars are giving to CAFOs,” said Anne Woiwode, director of the Michigan Sierra Club, a Less=More Coalition member. “Michigan’s sustainable livestock producers shouldn’t have to compete against massive animal factories like these that receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax payer subsidies and subsidized loans, even while Mibelloon Dairy was polluting the water in violation of the law.”

Incidents for which Mibelloon Dairy, LLC, was cited that resulted in fines and costs of $45,344 included discharge of wastes into county drains, improper storage of wastes and stockpiling of wastes near a road.

“A single factory farm generates millions of gallons of waste annually, the equivalent of 16,000 people, but unlike a city with as many residents, these facilities aren’t required to treat the waste,” said Tia Lebherz, Michigan organizer for Food & Water Watch, a Less=More Coalition member.

“This is not your garden-variety animal manure—factory farm waste contains antibiotics, chemicals, pathogens, and other contaminants. This waste inevitably runs off in to our local rivers and streams, polluting our water.Taxpayer dollars should not be used to prop-up these polluting factory farms.”

Restoring the Balance explores how federal tax dollars create an uneven playing field for sustainable livestock operations in Michigan by overwhelmingly favoring grants of subsidies to polluting CAFOs. In particular, it examines how one Farm Bill program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP), encourages unsustainable agricultural practices that threaten public health and the environment, while putting Michigan’s independent and local producers at a severe competitive disadvantage.

The report highlights opportunities to reverse this inequity through NRCS Michigan State Conservationist Garry Lee’s authority to change priorities set for EQIP in Michigan. It also recommends measures of accountability in the application process to ensure funds are awarded to environmentally responsible farmers. The Less=More Coalition presented the report and its concerns and recommendations to Lee on Feb. 14, 2013.

“With the release of this update to Restoring the Balance, we call upon Mr. Lee once again to take action on our recommendations,” said Woiwode. “The time to act is now. Factory farms are a huge threat to the clean water, air and land every Michigander depends on for our food, our families and our future.”
More than 2,300 concerned Michigan consumers have signed petitions and postcards urging Mr. Lee to take action on inequitable subsidies. The online petition to Mr. Lee is found at http://tinyurl.com/CAFOpetition
The update to Restoring the Balance as well as the original report can be downloaded at: http://tinyurl.com/L-Mreport


For questions about the report, contact Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club, anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org or 517-484-2372, ext. 11, or Lynn Henning, lynn.henning@sierraclub.org or 517-605-7740.

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, ELFCO food cooperative, 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 polluting factory farms means a more sustainable Michigan.  For more information, visit, http://MoreforMichigan.org.