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Monday, June 3, 2013

Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Earns Seat on NRCS Michigan Technical Committee

Award-Winning Factory Farm Researcher Lynn Henning to Represent the Chapter

Media Contact: Gail Philbin, 312-493-2384, gail.philbin@sierraclub.org

Lansing, Mich.— The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter has been appointed to the Michigan Technical Committee of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the body that advises State Conservationist Garry Lee about implementation of natural resources conservation provisions in the Farm Bill.

Sierra Club Water Sentinel Lynn Henning, who is internationally recognized for her work documenting factory farm pollution in Michigan, will represent the Michigan Chapter on the committee, which is comprised of representatives from government agencies, agricultural and environmental groups, agricultural producers and American Indian tribes. Henning received the 2010 International Goldman Environmental Prize for her work tracking environmental abuses at factory farms around her small family farm in southeast Michigan and around the state and helped alert authorities to violations and build cases against big polluters. 

“I’ve been working on the factory farm pollution issue in Michigan for more than a dozen years,” said Henning, a Lenawee County native who farms 300 acres with her husband, Dean. “This is an exciting opportunity to bring what I’ve learned to the table and help the committee and Mr. Lee make better-informed decisions about how to spend taxpayer money when it comes to livestock operations.”

Michigan has 238 factory farms, also known as CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations), which confine thousands of animals 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-laden waste they generate lead to pollution of water, land and air, and violations of state and federal environmental laws.

Henning’s research into the relationship between factory farm pollution and subsidies in Michigan forms the basis for Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, a report released in February by the Less=More sustainable agriculture coalition. In particular, the report looks at subsidies in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which is supposed to induce agricultural producers to implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns and make improvements.

Restoring the Balance shows that the way subsidies are distributed currently by the Michigan State Conservationist, taxpayer money in the form of EQIP subsidies doesn’t always help solve an operation’s underlying environmental problems, but in fact, continues to go to support factory farms cited for environmental violations and discharges. The report found that 37 Michigan factory farms cited for environmental violations and unpermitted discharges over the 15 years ending in 2011 were awarded nearly $27 million in various 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.

“Factory farms take a perfectly good natural material, animal manure, and concentrate it until it becomes an environmental hazard and then they receive taxpayer money for conservation practices that are supposed to ‘solve’ the problem they’ve created,” said Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter director. “And then when the problem isn’t solved, they get more money even as they continue to pollute.”

The NRCS State Conservationist is mandated to distribute 60 percent of the EQIP funds to livestock operations. Currently, most go to support factory farms in Michigan. Of the 104 EQIP subsidies available in 2013, 53 are practices identified by the NRCS as being applicable to farmers with organic certification, according to Henning. These include such activities as brush management, grassed waterways, fencing and filter strips.

Although about half of the practices are listed as organic, the reality is that the biggest EQIP subsidies go to support practices dealing with waste -- handling, storage, separators, transfer systems and biodigesters -- that are specific to large-scale operations with thousands of animals that generate millions of gallons of manure. For example, a factory farm can apply for and receive more than $43,000 for a solid/liquid waste separation facility, and anaerobic digesters fetch anywhere from roughly $300-$600 per animal unit, which translates to a substantial sum for an operation with thousands of animals.

“Our priorities are all wrong,” said Woiwode. “There’s a better way to raise livestock and a better way to spend taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars—we should stop giving subsidies to polluting factory farms and start using them to support more of the practices used by sustainable livestock farmers.”
Less=More is a sustainable agriculture coalition launched earlier this year to address the inequity of Farm Bill subsidy distribution in Michigan and how the system favors polluting factory farms over safe, sustainable livestock farms at the expense of the environment and public health. The coalition is comprised of national, state and local organizations engaged in various aspects of our food system, including: 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, 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. 

Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape and other information about Less=More is available at www.MoreforMichigan.org.

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