subdivision? An industrial park? After many inquiries, the residents learn the worst: the new development in Gratiot County will be a hog factory, home to 2,000 stinking pigs.
Smashed together like sausages, the hogs will eat, poop and give birth within huge buildings sitting atop enormous pits of manure. Exhaust fans will run 24-7 to vent toxic fumes that would otherwise kill the pigs. When the manure pits are full, the untreated sewage will be dumped on nearby fields.
Promoters tell residents that hog factories bring economic prosperity. Doing their own research, however, citizens find study after study documenting economic decline and plummeting property values caused by animal factory pollution. They learn about groundwater contamination, fish kills, rivers polluted with fecal bacteria, and stench so bad it can cause spontaneous vomiting.
The community organizes. They distribute fliers, meet in overcrowded gymnasiums and consult experts. They ask the planning commission to deny building permits. They try to change the zoning. They plead with the health department. They petition the city. They consult attorneys.
What they learn is this: Because of the protections offered to farms (even factory farms) under the Right to Farm Act,
communities are powerless to stop animal factories. Those same protections also shield animal factories from liability for harm to human health or loss of property value resulting from their pollution. Welcome to Alma future home of Sietsma Hog factory.
In another part of Michigan, a similar tale unfolds. Lenawee County residents living near the states most polluting dairy factory farm watch in horror as the operators dig yet another gigantic sewage lagoon. Soon, the facility will be able to store more than 70 million gallons of sewage.
The state has charged the dairys operators with more than 75 water quality violations. The operators were finally required to install a $1 million sewage treatment system. It isnt working - and area streams continue to flow with raw sewage.
Recent notices from the State Attorney General and state regulators note that the situation at Vreba Hoff Dairy has deteriorated substantially over the last few months. Despite continuing violations and extreme environmental pollution, the state does nothing to protect public health. Welcome to the town of Hudson.
Think these stories have nothing to do with northern, lower Michigan? Think again.
Michigan is in frenzy to build corn-based ethanol plants, a number of which have been proposed for northwest Michigan. Ethanol plants produce a byproduct which can be fed to cows and pigs. So, where ethanol plants go, animal factories follow. Where animal factories go, severe pollution follows. Welcome to reality.
Under current Michigan law, animal factories are considered farms and receive the same protections as farms. This needs to change. As long as animal factories receive exemptions under Right to Farm, Michigan will continue to be plagued by animal factory pollution, and communities will be powerless to protect themselves. Think that animal factories wont show up in northern Michigan? Think again.
Do you want a hog factory in your backyard? If not, tell Senators Jason Allen and Michelle McManus and Representatives Howard Walker and David Palsrock to change the Right to Farm Act. Animal factories need to be regulated like the polluting industries they are, and communities need to be able to say NO.
Gayle Miller is the legislative director for the Sierra Clubs Michigan Chapter.