"Living a Nightmare: Animal Factories in Michigan"
An Environmental Article from All-Creatures.org


National Sierra Club, Michigan Chapter
October 2006

The National Sierra Club has posted the Michigan Chapter’s 24 minute documentary, "Living a Nightmare: Animal Factories in Michigan" about the horrors of industrial agriculture. It will soon also be on the Michigan Chapter’s site.

Watch on Youtube.

For Floyd and Mary Lou McVay, life will never be the same; not since 4,000 squealing, stinking hogs became their nearest neighbor. A decent pitcher could easily fire a fast ball into the massive buildings that confine the pigs, less than 400 feet from the back door of their home near Morenci, Michigan.

The McVays bought their battered, old farmhouse 32 years ago. Surrounded by fields of corn, alfalfa and beans, Floyd restored their home and planted scores of trees. The oaks, spruce and maple now tower over a beautiful country setting…beautiful except for the constant noise of the swine, the roar of giant exhaust fans, the stench, and a steady stream of truck traffic on their dirt road. The McVays had hoped to invite their grandchildren to the farm, play with them in the yard and retire happy. Life has not turned out that way.

The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO or factory farm) has destroyed the McVay’s enjoyment of their home and devastated their property value. No-one in their right mind would buy the McVay’s house, now. (Except, perhaps, the owner of the pigs. He came right out and told Floyd that when he’d had enough and could no longer stand the stench and noise, that he’d gladly buy him out. No doubt he’d get a bargain.)

John and Peggy Zachel, lifelong farmers in their 80s, live less than three hundred yards from the same CAFO. They worry about the air they breathe and the contamination of their water supply. John and Peggy raise 2,000 turkeys. They know farm smells. The odor of the pigs next door, however, is another story. At a loss for words, they attempt to describe the stench as “choking, unbearable and heavy.” The point they come back to over and over again is that you can’t escape the smell. They feel trapped.

Folks like Gerald and Lea Henning, lifelong family farmers near Hudson, Michigan, are in the same boat. A nearby CAFO operator spreads the putrid contents of their dairy lagoon on the land surrounding the Henning’s home. The liquid manure contains not just urine and feces with the antibiotics and hormones excreted by the cows, but detergents, milk waste, pesticides, antiseptics, and all manner of other body fluids and chemicals.

Adding insult to injury, many CAFO have dead animal “composting” areas, where scores of carcasses may be piled up to let nature take it’s course. The liquid from the decomposing animals, and the consistently over-applied CAFO waste, is sucked into underground drainage tiles and spit out into local waterways, making human contact with nearby rivers very unwise.

For the Hennings, life often seems unbearable. Both Gerald and Lea have been diagnosed with hydrogen sulfide poisoning, one of numerous toxic emissions resulting from CAFO waste. Gerald has difficulty farming in air made so putrid that it takes his breath away. Lea is often stuck indoors as flies and extreme odor make outdoor activities impossible. Two summers ago, the CAFO operator spread liquid manure on the field adjacent to the Henning’s home for 14 straight days, without turning the waste under as recommended in the voluntary guidelines (not laws) which governs most CAFOs in Michigan.

John Klien is fortunate not to live in the immediate vicinity of a CAFO, but his life is no less impacted by their pollution. After a massive discharge of manure by an upstream CAFO two years ago, John watched in horror as the lake he lives on turned the color of antifreeze. The lake has since recovered, but John knows the potential for another disaster is just around the corner, and just upstream.

Dr. Leland Wolf, a family practice physician in Hudson, knows all too well the impact of CAFOs on his rural community. Dr. Wolf treats many of the residents who live nearest the CAFOs. Difficulty in breathing, asthma, chronic bronchitis, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are among the symptoms reported by his patients. Dr. Wolf insists that CAFOs are a public health disaster waiting to happen.

Kathy Melmoth, a nurse and family farmer from Pittsford, is worried that the toxic air from a CAFO near her property will negatively impact her family farm business. She and her husband had considered expanding their operation to include a roadside nursery. However, concerns over the possible decline in their property value and the potential health impacts from the surrounding air and water caused them to reconsider. After observing residents of her rural community experiencing physical and emotional symptoms apparently linked to the CAFO waste, Kathy started documenting their complaints. The results of her efforts alarmed her. Public health agencies have failed to respond to requests for help.

These are just a few of the people whose lives have been forever changed by animal factories in Michigan, a practice promoted by the Farm Bureau, Michigan State University and the Michigan Department of Agriculture – and heralded as the “future of agriculture.”

The stories of the McVays, Zachels, Hennings, Dr. Wolf and Kathy Melmoth are stories that need to be told. The Sierra Club is doing just that. The Michigan Sierra Club has produced a compelling 24-minute documentary focused on the impact of industrial agriculture on Michigan’s rural residents, public health and the environment.

To order a copy, send the following information and $10 to:

Michigan Sierra Club
109 E. Grand River Ave.
Lansing, MI 48906

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