Calling On Gov. Whitmer to Protect the Great Lakes from Factory Farms

September 26, 2019
 Food

Michiganders are using their collective power (and phones) to demand action

Phone Call by Guillermo Alonso/CC

By Rebecca Wolf

Agricultural run-off causes 80% of algal blooms in Lake Erie, much of which is from synthetic fertilizer and manure spreading by large agribusiness companies on frozen ground. As algal bloom season takes hold again, we’re working to stop Big Ag from continuing with business as usual.

Michiganders are coming together to demand action. Last week, over 150 people called Governor Whitmer’s office to urge her to protect the health of the Great Lakes from factory farm pollution by banning manure spreading on frozen or snow-covered ground — a commonsense solution to reduce the amount of agricultural pollution ending up in our Great Lakes.

Factory Farms Cause Algal Blooms

Michigan is the second most diverse agricultural state in the country. It takes some real midwestern grit to rebuild roads, work with the land, and live near the mighty Great Lakes.

But that grit has been used by special interests to push a destructive factory farming agenda. Michigan dairy farmers are struggling because they’re stuck in a system designed not to make them profit, but to make the Michigan milk lobby profit.

It’s time to hold polluters accountable and create a healthier farm system that protects the Great Lakes and our small, community-minded family farmers.

Governor Whitmer has the power to change the tide on this. She can ban the application of manure, fertilizer and waste from livestock operations on frozen or snow-covered soil. This would stop the worst impacts of agriculture pollution to the Great Lakes and set us up for a cleaner future.

Right now, she has goals to reduce 40% of the phosphorus, which causes some of the issues in the Great Lakes, by 2025, but she hasn’t addressed the huge impact that factory farms have had on the creation of toxic algal blooms. We can’t let factory farms ruin our drinking water and the best way to do that is to ban the practice of dumping manure on frozen land.

How You Can Help Stop Algal Blooms

There’s no doubt about it: we need Governor Whitmer to step up and hold agribusiness accountable. We don’t have the funding and resources that the Michigan Farm Bureau has, so we will have to utilize our voting power instead. When constituents from across the state call Whitmer’s office in large numbers, it shows the widespread and urgent desire to stop factory farm pollution.

When we work together and make calls to Gov. Whitmer’s office, it elevates our voice over special interests. It only takes a few minutes – and it goes a long way.

Here’s how to make a phone call to Gov. Whitmer:

Food & Water Action will provide a special phone number (855-980-226). After you dial it, you will be given a prompt or reminder of what to say  – then, you will be connected.

Easy! The office will begin tallying how many calls they are receiving about the Great Lakes and when the number becomes large enough, they will feel pressure to respond to the issue.

Ask Governor Gretchen Whitmer to be a champion for our drinking water and Great Lakes. Tell her to ban manure spreading on frozen and snow-covered land.

Call Whitmer today at 855-980-2268

Forever Chemicals Deserve a Forever Solution

September 18, 2019
 Food
By Jackie Filson

Is the upheaval against forever chemicals in our water finally coming to a crux? Over a series of hearings this summer, Congress’s respect for the human right to water was put directly on display. America has been ignoring a severe chemical contamination crisis in our water for years, and now Congress is finally confronting why.

The hearings made it clear that across party lines, state representatives have a variety of motivations feeding their proposals for clean up and prevention of forever chemicals known as PFAS. Some took the stand to regurgitate industry fueled propaganda, while others straddled the fence between regulation and swift action. The true water champions offered hard-lined, urgent and sweeping plans. It’s time to stop the production of PFAS containing products, enforce limits on their environmental presence and provide adequate funding for cleanup and testing.

Fourth Congressional hearing commences on forever chemicals (PFAS), September 2019.

Forever Chemicals Destroy Lives

Community members like Michael Hickey trekked all the way to Washington D.C. to share personal stories about losing loved ones in order to convince every member of Congress and the EPA to take the hard-line when it comes to water contamination.

His specific demands are:

  • Immediately regulating PFAS forever chemicals under the Clean Water Act;
  • Clean up the sources of contamination and contaminated water supplies;
  • Make the polluter pay for water contamination cleanup, including the military, which is responsible for many contaminated sites around the country;
  • Set enforceable standards for drinking water for the entire class of PFAS chemicals;
  • Provide funding to help communities like Hoosick Falls provide safe water; and
  • Provide training for healthcare professionals and medical monitoring in impacted communities.

PFAS are “forever chemicals,” so they deserve a forever solution. Congress must break party lines, put the lid on half-measure proposals and commit to adequate action that includes all of the above. Passing the Water Affordability, Transparency, Equity and Reliability (WATER) Act would be a good start.

Food Safety is ‘Going Ham’ to Please Pork Industry

September 17, 2019
 Food

By Jackie Filson

Image of workers in a pork processing facility handling raw meat
Triumph Foods pork processing facility April 28, 2017 in St. Joseph, Mo. USDA photo by Preston Keres

The finalization of the Trump administration’s new plan to privatize hog-slaughter inspection is a huge loss for food safety and a kowtow to the pork industry.

Before this, hog slaughter plants had two major requirements for mass-hog slaughter:

  1. Federal workers must inspect each hog carcass for public health risks like lesions, infected organs, fecal matter or other contamination in an “inspection line”
  2. These inspection lines can move the hog carcasses at a maximum speed of 1,106 hogs per hour (that’s about 3.5 seconds per 250-pound animal)

The Trump administration’s proposed new inspection system removes up to 40 percent of trained federal inspectors from slaughter lines and replaces them with company employees who are not required to be trained.

Our own Patty Lovera tells NPR about this new and irresponsible plan:

Privatization Means Food Contamination

Big pork slaughter companies have been trying to increase profit by doing away with slaughter line speed limits for years. It’s no coincidence that these same companies are on board with the new inspection system: privatizing inspection of hog slaughter facilities could open the door to pushing the pork industry’s goal of increasing line speed limits.

Previous attempts to privatize inspection have led to weaker food safety performance. There’s no doubt about it: removing government control over hog slaughter inspection means more contaminated food on our tables.

Americans Don’t Support the Rule

In all parts of the country, among all demographics, and across party lines, Americans overwhelmingly oppose this change to inspection in hog processing. Midwesterners, who make up the communities closest to the hog slaughter industry, opposed this proposed change by a stunning 70 percent margin in national polling.

The USDA should withdraw this rule in order to fulfill its duty to protect food safety. It’s time to put public health, worker safety and animal welfare above the profit-driven scheme to avoid government inspection of the pork industry.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren Target Big Ag in Iowa

May 21, 2019
 Democracy Food

Presidential candidates have long visited Iowa to pay lip service to rural communities, donning cowboy boots on farm visits and eating deep-fried butter at the state fair. However, a true commitment to American farmers must include breaking up the food monopolies that lower the prices farmers get for their crops while raising the cost of the seeds and other inputs they buy. And at the other end of the food chain, these food monopolies reduce choices for consumers and make food more expensive. So it’s a hopeful sign that several of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have made tackling corporate control of agriculture central to their campaign platforms.

Two candidates stand out as having the strongest policies addressing these issues so far. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) commits to breaking apart recent mega-mergers between seed and agri-chemical companies, such as last year’s acquisition of Monsanto by the German chemical company, Bayer.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has pledged to tackle consolidation in the meat packing industry, which has shuttered medium-sized plants serving regional markets and reduced livestock prices for farmers. Iowa is ground-zero for extreme consolidation in the hog industry, which led to the state shedding 82 percent of its hog farms between 1982 and 2007, even as hog production ramped up due to factory farms that popped up across the state.

Sanders is going even further by seeking to reinstate our country’s grain reserve, which would buffer our food system against the growing threat of extreme weather due to climate change. A grain reserve would allow the government to buy crops during surplus years and sell them during times of drought, disaster or other conditions that drive prices up. Current farm policies encourage nonstop overproduction, leading to a steep decline in prices of crops like corn and soy that only benefit corporate buyers and the meat industry, which feeds cheap corn and soy to its factory farmed animals.

Presidential candidates have no business visiting Iowa if they are not committed to addressing the root economic and policy causes behind the loss of family farms. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have set the benchmark this election cycle on the issue, and other candidates should come out strong, too. They must make restoring a fair playing field for farmers and consumers central to their campaigns – and we must hold whomever is elected accountable for following through on his or her promises.

Big Pork Finally Loses

May 4, 2018
 Food  North Carolina

Justice is served: North Carolinians should not be required to sacrifice their health and well-being for the corporate factory farm next door.

A groundbreaking lawsuit filed by people living next to a factory hog farm in Bladen County, North Carolina against Murphy-Brown/Smithfield Foods was heard in federal court last month.

And the verdict is finally in: the jury awarded the 10 plaintiffs $50 million.

Summary of the Factory Farm Lawsuit

The jury found that Murphy-Brown “substantially and unreasonably interfered” with the plaintiffs’ use and enjoyment of their properties around Kinlaw Farms, which raises hogs under contract with Murphy-Brown.

This is what the actual complaint said:

“Plaintiffs have suffered episodes of noxious and sickening odor, onslaughts of flies and pests, nausea, burning and watery eyes, stress, anger, worry, loss of use and enjoyment of their property, inability to comfortably engage in outdoor activities, cookouts, gardening, lawn chores, drifting of odorous mist and spray onto their land, inability to keep windows and doors open, difficulty breathing and numerous other harms.”

It’s being referred to as a “nuisance” lawsuit, but it’s far worse than you can imagine. During the trial, an expert testified to finding bacteria from hog poop on 14 of the 17 homes located within a half mile of Kinlaw Farms.

Take a moment to consider that– bacteria from the 15,000 hogs raised on the industrial factory farm next door making its way to the walls of your home.

No More “Nuisance” Lawsuits Against Factory Farming in North Carolina

There are still seven more groups of lawsuits to go to trial. However, these will be the last “nuisance” lawsuits of their kind…. even though another 850,000 North Carolinians live within three miles of a factory hog farm. This is not because other people aren’t suffering, and not because other people aren’t deserving of justice.

No, these lawsuits will be the last of their kind because in 2017, the North Carolina General Assembly passed a terrible bill (House Bill 467, often called the “hog nuisance bill”). It stripped the citizens of North Carolina of the ability to use the court system to hold toxic and polluting hog farms accountablefor anything other than lost property values.

Governor Roy Cooper vetoed this bill, but the legislative supermajority, comprised of many members who receive robust campaign contributions from Big Pork, easily overrode his veto.

North Carolina Lawmakers Want to Protect Factory Farms from You

It’s bittersweet: the Kinlaw Farms lawsuit and the eight that will follow are both groundbreaking and the end of the road.

Across the country, and here in North Carolina, Big Ag spends lavishly to elect sympathetic politicians. As of 2017, according to The National Institute on Money in State Politics, the four original sponsors of the nuisance bill had raised $417,900 throughout their time in office from Big Ag—including $45,750 from the North Carolina Farm Bureau and $30,000 from the NC Pork Council. The North Carolina Farm Bureau gave $458,000 to the 2017 legislature; the North Carolina Pork Council gave $235,200.

Thanks to a legislature that is beholden to Big Pork, if the toxic and polluting factory farm next door makes you sick, makes your life unbearable, or causes you to lose income, you no longer have any recourse.

Our democracy is broken, and passage of HB 467 is a perfect example.

Corporations like Smithfield/Murphy-Brown use their economic and political power to influence elected officials and to buy public policy.

When corporate influence shapes public policy, corporate profits come ahead of people’s interests. And if our elected officials are carrying water for Big Pork, they certainly aren’t accountable to us, the citizens of North Carolina.

Corporate influence in our political system is one of the biggest threats to our health, environment, food, and water.

But we have a huge opportunity before us.

What You Can Do

2018 is an election year, and we can elect leaders who will be accountable to us and not to Big Pork. If you can vote, you have the political power to make our democratic process work for us. From local races, to races for the US House and Senate, you can vote for candidates who care about our issues and who refuse to take contributions from corporate polluters that put their profits over the health of our communities.

North Carolina’s primary is May 8th. If you can vote, join us on May 8. It’s the first step in taking back our democracy.