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Michigan lawmakers offer opposing CAFO proposals
Michigan Correspondent

LANSING, Mich. — Republican and Democrat lawmakers in Michigan, as expected, have different opinions on how large Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) should be regulated.

Competing sets of CAFO regulation packages have been introduced in the Michigan Legislature. It’s another chapter in an ongoing dispute over how such farms can be managed in an environmentally responsible way.

Support for the legislative packages runs along party lines. The Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) supports a set of bills called Protecting Farms, Growing Jobs, introduced in the House by Republican Reps. John Proos, Neal Nitz, Phil Pavlov, Leslie Mortimer, Darwin Booher and John Stahl.

This legislation, if passed, would recognize the Michigan Agriculture Environ-mental Assurance Program (MAEAP) in state statute. The MAEAP is a voluntary program designed to verify that a farm is being run in an environmentally responsible way.

Democrats, meanwhile, have introduced their own set of bills in the state Senate. Dubbed Adequate Guidelines for Safer Animal Factory Emissions (AG SAFE), the legislation is designed to strengthen rules surrounding manure application. The goal is to ensure that roads, water wells, soil and surface water are protected. It would increase penalties for manure spills and irresponsible waste disposal, and increase local authority and scrutiny over large farm site selection and impact, according to a statement issued by the Senate Democratic Caucus.

Sen. Liz Brater (D-Ann Arbor), ranking Democrat on the Senate Agriculture, Forestry and Tourism Committee, introduced the legislation along with Rep. Frank Accavitti (D-Eastpointe).

“What we’re trying to do is protect family farms from these operations,” Brater said. “Family farms are the neighbors of these operations. We aren’t going after just any farms. My package protects Michigan agriculture. The more farmers learn about these CAFOs, the more they support these bills.”

Brater said people who live near the large CAFOs have reported a wide range of physical symptoms, including headaches, nausea, abdominal pains, diarrhea, sinus problems, bronchitis and difficulty breathing.

According to Scott Piggott, agricultural ecology manager at the MFB, the proposed legislation he supports wouldn’t change the regulatory authority the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has over farms that don’t participate in MAEAP.

“I see a lack of understanding of science” in the AG SAFE program, Piggott said.

Marilyn Momber, president of the Michigan Farmers Union (MFU), couldn’t be reached for this article, but did speak earlier for the Senate Democratic Caucus.

“Farmers consider themselves to be good stewards of land and water,” Momber said in the news release. “We depend on Michigan’s water and soil quality standards for a good living.”

Momber added that laws are needed to remove favorable treatment of “corporate animal factories.”

Brater said many of the large CAFOs aren’t lived on by their owners. She said that a Dutch company, for example, owns the large CAFOs in Lenawee County. While some environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, don’t believe that MAEAP is adequate, the MFB would like to see the program expanded. Piggott said all farm operations can become MAEAP certified, even greenhouses and nurseries.

“It’s focused on all farms,” Piggott said. “If all farms were environmentally assured, we’d have a stronger environment and a stronger agriculture. There hasn’t been a regulated discharge from a MAEAP verified farm.”

The likelihood of either bill passing is unclear. These and other items were discussed at the MFB’s annual Lansing Legislative Seminar late last month.

This farm news was published in the March 8, 2006 issue of Farm World.