FLOW joins amicus brief in Michigan Supreme Court CAFO case

By Carrie La Seur, FLOW Legal Director

My lungs remember. While I was an Iowa Environmental Protection Commissioner, I said yes to a chance to visit a relatively small hog confinement run, by the dad of one of my son’s best friends. It was just a few miles from our home in Mount Vernon, population 4,460, so I drove my old Celica out to the barns one frozen morning. I hadn’t been on another farm recently, and it was a small operation, so I didn’t have to “shower in” or put on different clothes, as many larger operations — also known as CAFOs, or Confined Animal Feeding Operations — require for biosecurity. We just walked through two sets of doors and stepped onto the steel grated floor of the hog barn.

If you’ve ever heard a pig squeal, you can imagine the effect of hundreds of pigs squealing, not in unison but total cacophony at the appearance of humans in their white-walled, tightly packed world. The smell hits just as hard, not so much the stink of manure as the nostril assault of pure ammonia from the urine pooled in vaults beneath your feet. My first instinct was not to breathe, then to take shallow, singed breaths, trying not to let the gas deep into my lungs.

We walked the full length of the barn, as the hogs rushed back and forth in their pens, Alan briefing me in steady, Iowa farmer tones on the life cycle of a confinement animal, the feed and medicine, waste handling, and the value of each pig to his bottom line, how carefully he watches them. This kind of small operation is unusual in the world of industrial livestock, where the number of farms has been dropping for decades, while the average size of an operation grows – and the size of its waste stream.

As a result, America’s farm country is adrift on a sea of manure. In Michigan alone, livestock confinements produce sewage equivalent to the state’s entire human population of 10 million, plus nearly another 4 million people. It’s like having Pennsylvania’s untreated sewage shipped to Michigan and spread on the ground and into our lakes, rivers, and streams. 

All this goes to explain why eleven organizations recently filed an amicus brief in litigation pending before the Michigan Supreme Court. Michigan Farm Bureau, a rich and powerful insurance company and lobbying agency masquerading as a grassroots ag group, is blocking the state’s efforts to control widespread water and soil pollution from livestock confinements. Our brief argues that no one is above the law, or the duty to protect Michigan’s waters for all of us.

Download and read the amicus brief (PDF)

FLOW and its many allies, from CAFO neighbors to trout fishers to city dwellers paying to clean up an uncontrolled wastestream delivered to them by rivers, have had enough. For too long, agricultural polluters have had a free pass and no accountability as we dump vast amounts taxpayer money into voluntary water quality measures that work only for a short time, or not at all. We’re looking for creative ways to fight back. Join us.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *