A coalition of environmentalist groups released a report recently that includes interactive mapping of pollution of the Great Lakes watershed caused by subsidized industrial livestock operations. According to the report, which was produced by the Sierra Club, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (SRAP), sought to document how industrial livestock operations “received millions of dollars in federal subsidies to prevent pollution over two decades, even as they racked up environmental violations and factory farm-fed algae blooms grew to crisis-level hazards in public waters.”
Manure released into holding ponds or otherwise into the surrounding environment, has been blamed for poisoning ground water and for toxic blooms of algae, especially in Lake Erie. “The federal money keeps flowing, and so does the factory farm waste into Michigan’s public waters,” said SRAP Chief Executive Officer, Kendra Kimbirauskas. “Everyone concerned about water pollution and public health needs to see this mapping project.”
According to a release, the report titled “A Watershed Moment” notes that as of the end of 2016 there were 272 factory farms operating in Michigan, representing 21 million animals that produced over 3.3 billion gallons of manure, urine and other waste, annually. Unlike human sewage, industrial livestock waste from factory farms (concentrated animal feeding operations -CAFOs) is not treated. Most of it is kept in giant open cesspits called lagoons, or under slatted barn floors, to which millions of gallons of clean groundwater are added, until it can be applied as liquid fertilizer on farm fields. The report claimed that these farms had 644 environmental enforcement actions by the State of Michigan through 2016, while receiving $104 million in subsidies since 1995. The source of much of the waste, nearly 80 percent, was dairy cows. The remaining waste was produced by a combination of beef cattle, swine, chickens (both laying hens and broilers/pullets), and turkeys.
The southeast Lake Michigan watershed (including the St. Joseph, Black-Macatawa, Kalamazoo, Upper Grand, Maple, Lower Grand, and Thornapple Rivers) has: the greatest number of factory farms (149), the most CAFO waste produced (1.8 billion gallons), the most subsidies received ($59 million), and the most environmental enforcement actions (388).
However, the champions of manure were the CAFOs in Huron County (Saginaw Bay-Lake Huron) at 402 million gallons, which is about 12 percent of the total produced in Michigan. The factory farms in Allegan County received the most subsidies (around $14 million) and earned the most environmental enforcement actions by the State at 255. It was Michigan’s 4th Congressional District received the most subsidies, at $27 million. The district is currently represented in the US House of Representatives by Rep. John Moolenaar (R). The farms in this district in the central part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula also produced the most manure and waste in 2016. The factory farms in Michigan’s 6th Congressional District amassed the most environmental enforcement actions by the State of Michigan through 2016. The district is represented by Rep. Fred Upton, who is also a Republican.