Reader: Michigan does not need another public health crisis.

August 14, 2019

Reader: Michigan does not need another public health crisis.

Letters to the editor are opinion editorials submitted by readers. Letters to the editor are a long tradition in American journalism. The views and opinions of the writer do not necessarily reflect those of Oceana County Press, its staff or its parent company. For more information, please refer to OCP’s Op/Ed policy.

Dear Editor,

Thanks to Oceana County Press for covering Claybanks Township’s pig Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and efforts by Reviving Our American Democracy (ROAD) and the Sierra Club to inform citizens about factory farming. As a physician and public health advocate, I would like to comment.

Flower Creek Swine, which will fatten 4,000 pigs to maturity at a time, is believed to be the closest large swine CAFO to Lake Michigan – less than two miles. Flower Creek, which flows into Lake Michigan and drains the watershed where massive amounts of CAFO waste will be applied, is already contaminated with germs ––evidenced by high E. coli levels.

EGLE*, who issued the CAFO’s permit, relies on the nutrient management plan to protect the waters of the state and human health. EGLE told me, “The CAFO won’t make things worse.” I’m not convinced.

Human waste is used as fertilizer (biosolids) but must first undergo treatment to reduce germ counts under the Clean Water Act. Pig waste can contain as many disease-causing germs as raw sewage but the CAFO waste won’t be treated — the USDA regulates livestock waste differently.

Manure is not necessarily safer than human feces. Although manure is a valuable source of plant nutrients, when those nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) and germs escape into the environment they become pollutants. Cost restraints generally limit disposal of waste to within a few miles of a CAFO. Runoff of nutrients and germs contaminates surface waters carrying the risk of eutrophication (fish kills and algal blooms) and recreational water illnesses.

Leaching of excess nitrate (derived from nitrogen) and germs into groundwater threatens private drinking water wells. With the exception of odor, CAFO air emissions, proven harmful to human health (and an unaccounted for source of nitrogen pollution), are exempt from regulation.

Coldwater, Michigan is home to a new pork processing plant owned by Clemens Food Group. Valley View Pork in Walkerville was instrumental in recruiting the Pennsylvania-based company to Michigan and will supply the CAFO with piglets.

Dairy processing and whey powder manufacturing plants are under construction in St. Johns – investors include Glanbia and Proliant Dairy Ingredients, Irish and Iowa companies, respectively. Production goals of slaughtering 22,000 hogs and processing 8 million pounds of milk per day will likely be met with more and larger swine and dairy CAFOs.

Local communities have no say when it comes to CAFOs. A 1999 Michigan Right to Farm (RTF) amendment preempts local zoning ordinances aimed at keeping them in check. Multiple CAFOs magnify the associated risks, but there are no size or density restrictions. CAFOs tend to cluster in poorer rural communities in what many consider an example of environmental and economic injustice.

Michigan’s strong RTF laws, CAFO-friendly regulatory climate, and abundant water resources make it an attractive industry target.

I believe that the CAFO owner intends to follow the rules. However, there is mounting scientific evidence that CAFOs endanger public health and water resources even if the rules are followed. Michigan is facing a steep rise in factory farms — public outcry and resistance can thwart the agricultural industry’s plan for our state.

*The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is now the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE).

Cheryl Ruble, MD
Claybanks Township