Divided Michigan Senate panel passes animal farm bills

by 5m Editor
15 June 2007, at 3:59am

US - Most of Michigan's largest livestock and poultry farms could participate in a voluntary program instead of having to apply for environmental permits under legislation before the state Senate.

The controversial measure won approval Thursday from Republicans who control the Senate Agriculture Committee, despite opposition from environmentalists and Democrats, including Gov. Jennifer Granholm's administration.

The farms are concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, which have been blamed for polluting waterways and creating foul odors, dust, gaseous emissions and other air pollution. A CAFO has 1,000 or more "animal units" _ 700 dairy cattle, for instance, or 100,000 egg-laying hens.

Environmental groups and people who live near CAFOs want tougher state oversight of the farms, including a moratorium on new or expanded CAFOs in Michigan for five years.

But CAFO operators, backed by the Michigan Farm Bureau, favor continuing and putting into law a 2002 agreement in which they can be verified by the state Department of Agriculture and avoid a permitting process run by the state Department of Environmental Quality.

That deal expires at the end of the year, and the DEQ is requiring CAFOs to apply for surface water discharge permits by July 1. At least 200 of Michigan's 53,000 farms are CAFOs, 112 of which will need to apply for permits unless legislation is passed.

The Sierra Club says the bills would deregulate one of Michigan's most polluting industries, redefine the definition of agricultural storm water, or runoff, and make it possible for farms verified in the voluntary program to pollute legally.

"These bills guarantee that the horrific environmental pollution and public health impacts from CAFOs will continue unabated and greatly increase," said Gayle Miller, legislative director for the Sierra Club's Michigan chapter.

But farmers and Republicans deny any deregulation is being attempted. They argue that CAFOs would still have incentives to not pollute because if they violate water quality standards, they would have to leave the voluntary program and apply for a state permit.


5m Editor