May 24, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – The General Council of the Adrian Dominican Sisters issued the following statement in response to a report issued today on factory farms in Michigan by the Less=More coalition.
A new report issued by the Less=More coalition, titled A Watershed Moment, provides a clear analysis of the magnitude of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Michigan and their impact on the Great Lakes watershed, pointing to the need for common sense regulations to safeguard the public against billions of gallons annually of untreated animal waste.
According to the report, as of the end of 2016, there were 272 factory farms operating in Michigan, confining nearly 21 million animals that produced over 3.3 billion gallons of manure, urine, and other waste, annually. “These farms racked up 644 environmental enforcement actions by the State of Michigan through 2016, while receiving $104 million in [federal taxpayer] subsidies since 1995,” the report states.
“The Great Lakes are the world’s largest source of fresh water and a God-given gift,” said Sister Patricia Siemen, OP, Prioress of the Adrian Dominican Sisters, expressing support for the coalition’s recommendations. “All life depends on water. We have a moral and spiritual obligation to protect our waterways and desire to stand in support responsible farming.”
The report is a follow-up to an analysis done in 2015 by the Less=More coalition that targeted the role factory farms and the manure they produce play in contributing dissolved phosphorus in Lake Erie’s toxic algae outbreaks. The 2017 report found that the amount of dissolved phosphorus has nearly doubled since the 1990s in the River Raisin. The River Raisin flows 139 miles, draining an area of more than 1,000 square miles encompassing five south Michigan counties, including the city of Adrian, into Lake Erie.
“It is very troubling to know that we are permitting a waste stream that feeds the type of toxic algal blooms that three years ago left nearly a half million people without drinking water in the Toledo area,” Sister Siemen said. “We have been a part of the Adrian and larger River Raisin watershed and farming communities since the 1880s. We have an obligation to farm in ways that keep our waterways clean not only for those who live downstream from us but also for the health and well-being of all who live near them today and for generations to come,” she said.
The Adrian Dominican Sisters join the Less=More coalition in their call to:
According to A Watershed Moment, nearly 80 percent of the waste source was dairy cows; the remaining waste was produced by a combination of beef cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys. “Unlike human sewage, industrial livestock waste is not treated,” the report notes. “The vast majority of this untreated animal sewage is stored 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.”
“We are grateful for the comprehensive research and analysis done by the Less=More coalition, particularly our local Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan group, which spearheaded the study and has been tracking factory farm pollution in Lenawee and Hillsdale Counties for more than 15 years,” Sister Siemen said. “It is a great public health service."
At their General Chapter of 2016, the Adrian Dominican Sisters made a commitment to address ecological degradation in a statement that reads: “Recognizing the violence against Earth community that places our common home in dire jeopardy and intensifies the suffering of people on the margins, future generations and all creation, we will sacrifice to mitigate significantly our impact on climate change and ecological degradation.”
The Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club offers more information on the issue of factory farms. Read their information on CAFO mapping.