Thursday, November 29, 2012

Consumer Reports sounds alarm on pork safety

November 27, 2012 7:52 AM

Consumer Reports sounds alarm on pork safety

(CBS News) Consumer Reports is sounding the alarm over the safety of pork. A new study shows that chops and ground pork may be full of bad bacteria. A whole host of food-borne illnesses is caused by these bacteria, such as stomach aches, vomiting, diarrhea, fever -- and in the most extreme cases, even death.

But Consumer Reports, an independent, nonprofit organization that provides ratings and product comparisons, says bacteria are not the only thing pork eaters should be concerned about.

For years, pork has been promoted by the industry as healthy food option -- "the other white meat." But a new report suggests otherwise.

Urvashi Rangan, Consumer Reports director of consumer safety and sustainability, said, "We found potentially harmful bacteria on most of the samples of pork that we tested. One organism we looked at, enterococcus, is more a measure of filth indication, maybe fecal contamination."

Of nearly 200 pork samples tested by Consumer Reports, many tested positive for salmonella, listeria, staph bacteria. The magazine says a whopping 69 percent contained Yersinia, which infects nearly 100,000 Americans every year. Children are especially vulnerable.

Stephen Morse, of the Columbia University School of Public Health, said, "You always expect to find some bacteria in any meat product. But those are usually harmless. I think the real surprise here was to find so many potentially disease-causing bacteria."

Even more, 90 percent of the bacteria Consumer Reports found were said to be resistant to antibiotics. In other words, they were super-bugs.

Rangan said, "All of these things paint a very concerning picture about this indiscriminate use of antibiotics in meat production in this country, and what we believe are the resulting consequences of that."

Consumer Reports was also alarmed by traces of ractopamine in one-fifth of pork they tested. Farmers use the drug on their hogs to produce leaner cuts of meat. It was originally developed to treat asthma, but never approved for human use.

Scott Hurd, a former top food safety official at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, who has done consulting work for the pork industry, says Consumer Reports is "inflamed and used a small amount of data to frighten people." And he says the meat is safe.

Hurd, of the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said, "The average person would have to eat over 700 pounds of pork every day for their entire life in order to get enough ractopamine to be above that acceptable level by FDA."

Hurd says the sample size of the Consumer Reports study is too small to draw any broader conclusions. But he adds germs can be found in nearly everything we eat, so consumers should always be careful when handling meat. That means cooking meat thoroughly and washing your hands.

Consumer Reports study:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Power to the People! Local Residents Kill Plans for Animal Factories in Iowa and Illinois!

The battle to transform the farming landscape to one that respects nature, people and animals can be disheartening at times, but then a news story comes along that gives us hope.  Below are links to articles about successful efforts by citizens in Illinois and Iowa to stop plans for animal factories in their communities. In Michigan, the local citizens group Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), have made over the last decade by documenting pollution from animal factories in that part of the state.  Check out their work at


A.J. Bos Agrees to Abandon Traditions Megadairy Project Near Nora, IL

After Five Years of Controversy, Poorly Sited Animal Factory Being Cleaned Up for Sale

Warren, Illinois – On November 15, 2012, the Illinois Pollution Control Board (IPCB) announced a proposed settlement agreement between the Illinois Attorney General’s Office and Traditions megadairy owner/investor, A.J. Bos of Bakersfield, California. According to the terms of the settlement, Bos will abandon the site in Jo Daviess County, Illinois, where the Traditions facility was being constructed. Workers are already land-applying the remaining liquids contained in the partially constructed manure ponds and digester pit to prepare the land for sale.

“Stopping this dangerous project would not have been possible without the dedication and commitment of HOMES and their supporters.  Never before in my work in Illinois and across the country have I witnessed a community succeeding in halting the construction of an industrial livestock production facility after groundbreaking,” says Danielle Diamond, Attorney for the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water and Executive Director of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.

This unprecedented achievement effectively ends a five-year, multi-million dollar battle between Bos and Jo Daviess County family farmers and residents, who were determined to evict the gigantic animal factory to protect their clean drinking water, clean air, and way of life. The megadairy operation was sited atop fragile karst bedrock, which could allow countless tons of waste and liquid manure to contaminate groundwater.

Click here for full story

Linn County factory farms under fire, The Gazette, Nov. 21, 2012

By Steve Gravelle

Unless you make an effort to buy from small local farmers, chances are your last meat purchase came not from a traditional farm, but from a large animal-confinement operation.

Confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, mean different things to different Iowans.

Farm groups see relentlessly efficient, high-density livestock operations as agriculture’s future, but to critics they’re symbolic of corporate-driven industrial agriculture hollowing out rural communities.
To would-be neighbors, they can be at best a nuisance, at worst a threat to their way of life. That’s how a group of rural Center Point residents undertook a crash course in CAFOs and the laws regulating them.

“You just learn really fast what the steps are,” said Regina Behmlander.

Behmlander, her husband Chris, and their three sons moved from Marion to a rural acreage about two years ago. The Behmlanders and neighbors launched a campaign this fall against an application by Matt Ditch of Center Point for a 5,661-hog CAFO two miles northwest of their home.

On Nov. 14, Ditch withdrew his application after neighbors convinced county supervisors to challenge several points on his master matrix, a score card of environmental and safety requirements the Iowa Department of Natural Resources uses to determine a proposed operation’s fitness.
It was the first successful challenge in Linn County since the state adopted the matrix process in 2003, said Les Beck, the county’s planning and development director. Livestock operations established before 2003 were “grandfathered” into the law.

The master matrix was adopted after legislative action in which lawmakers, stakeholders and the DNR tried to balance the interests of local government, rural residents and agriculture.
“A lot of different organizations, a lot of different individuals had input designing that matrix to be fair and to keep our environment safe,” said Brian Waddingham, executive director of the Coalition to Support Iowa Farmers, a consortium of commodity and livestock groups. “I personally think it’s worked very well.”

Matrix opposition

But not all groups agree the master matrix does enough.

“We did not feel that it went far enough and restored enough local power to counties,” said Dave Goodner, rural community organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. “We’ve been very successful using it as tool to stop proposed factory farms, but our number-one priority is to increase oversight” of big feeding operations.

“I would say the (matrix) process doesn’t work at all,” said Behmlander. “It’s very much slanted in corporate farms’ favor, and the smaller farmer is left with very little recourse.”

The matrix process and DNR’s rules apply to all livestock operations of more than 1,000 cattle or 2,500 hogs. They also apply to large dairy and poultry farms.

Ditch, who didn’t return calls for comment, could resubmit his application after changes to address the matrix issues cited by county supervisors. Or he could establish a smaller feeding operation below the 2,500-hog standard.

Before the master matrix process, the state had issued 923 CAFO permits through the end of 2002, 49 of them to open feedlots, said Gene Tinker, the DNR’s animal feeding operations coordinator in the agency’s Manchester office. There are now 2,553 active permits, 243 of them held by open feedlots.
Economy woes cut new CAFO permits to just more than 100 in both 2009 and 2010, including new storage facilities required under new manure-disposal rules. But activity picked up last year when the state issued permits to 324 new operations. More than 800 permits were issued in 2006.

The matrix process could be changed as the state responds to a finding by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that its rules, specifically the CAFO permitting process, don’t adequately protect water quality. In 2003, 42 manure spills were reported to the DNR. There were 59 reported spills last year, but just 13 through July 31 this year.

Any changes will be the subject of public hearings across the state, “and we’ll be able to weigh in on that,” said Goodner. He said his group also plans to lobby in support of boosting the DNR’s budget $1.2 million to hire more CAFO inspectors.

Master matrix at a glance

Adopted by the Department of Natural Resources in 2003, the master matrix is an appendix, often 80 pages or more, submitted with an application to construct and operate a confined animal feeding operation. An application receives points for meeting standards of construction, waste storage, distance from occupied buildings and public spaces, manure management and safety plans, and other factors. An application must score at least 440 points to qualify for a permit. County supervisors may challenge an applicant’s matrix before it’s forwarded to the DNR.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about CAFOs but Were Afraid to Ask...

This is a really excellent article on everything about animal factories you ever wanted to know (and didn't)...

Farmageddon Screening in Grand Rapids Oct. 16

Tuesday, Oct. 16, 7pm

Screening of Farmageddon
by Nourishing Ways of Grand Rapids at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids

"Farmageddon tells the story of small, family farms that were providing safe, healthy foods to their communities and were forced to stop, sometimes through violent action, by agents of misguided government bureaucracies, and seeks to figure out why."

Watch the trailer here:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Where Cows are Happy and Food is Healthy

An article in the New York Times about dairy farming the way it should be done--on a reasonable scale with respect for the animals. The farmer profiled is an Organic Valley farmer, by the way. Story below but link to story with pix is here:
September 8, 2012

Where Cows Are Happy and Food Is Healthy


FOOD can be depressing. If it’s tasty, it’s carcinogenic. If it’s cheap, animals were tortured.
But this, miraculously, is a happy column about food! It’s about a farmer who names all his 230 milk cows, along with his 200 heifers and calves, and loves them like children.
Let me introduce Bob Bansen, a high school buddy of mine who is a third-generation dairyman raising Jersey cows on lovely green pastures here in Oregon beside the Yamhill River. Bob, 53, a lanky, self-deprecating man with an easy laugh, is an example of a farmer who has figured out how to make a good living running a farm that is efficient but also has soul.
As long as I’ve known him, Bob has had names for every one of his “girls,” as he calls his cows. Walk through the pasture with him, and he’ll introduce you to them.
“I spend every day with these girls,” Bob explained. “I know most of my cows both by the head and by the udder. You learn to recognize them from both directions.”
“This is Hosta,” he began, and then started pointing out the others nearby. “Jill. Sophia. This is Kimona. Edie would be the spotted one lying there. Pesto is the black one standing up. In front of her is Clare. Next to her is Pasta, who is Pesto’s daughter.”
I asked about Jill, and Bob rattled off her specs. She is now producing about eight gallons a day, with particularly high protein and butterfat content. Jill’s mother was Jolly, a favorite of Bob’s. When Jolly grew old and unproductive, he traded her to a small family farm in exchange for a ham so she could live out her retirement with dignity.
When I pushed for Bob’s secret to tell the cows apart, he explained: “They have family resemblances. They look like their mothers.”
Oh, that helps.
As a farmkid myself, growing up with Bob here in the rolling green hills of Yamhill, where the Willamette Valley meets the coastal range, I’ve been saddened to see American farms turn into food factories. Just this year, I’ve written about hens jammed in cages, with dead birds left to rot beside the survivors, and about industrial farms that try to gain a financial edge by pumping chickens full of arsenic, antibiotics, Tylenol and even Prozac.
Yet all is not lost. Family farms can still thrive, while caring for animals and producing safe and healthy food.
For Bob, a crucial step came when he switched to organic production eight years ago. A Stanford study has cast doubt on whether organic food is more nutritious, but it affirms that organic food does contain fewer pesticides and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Bob’s big worry in switching to organic production was whether cows would stay healthy without routine use of antibiotics because pharmaceutical salesmen were always pushing them as essential. Indeed, about 80 percent of antibiotics in the United States go to farm animals — leading to the risk of more antibiotic-resistant microbes, which already cause infections that kill some 100,000 Americans annually.
Bob nervously began to experiment by withholding antibiotics. To his astonishment, the cows didn’t get infections; on the contrary, their health improved. He realized that by inserting antibiotics, he may have been introducing pathogens into the udder. As long as cows are kept clean and are given pasture rather than cooped up in filthy barns, there’s no need to shower them with antibiotics and other pharmaceuticals, he says.
Many cows in America now live out their lives in huge dairy barns, eating grain and hay and pumping out milk. But evidence is growing that cows don’t do well when locked up, so now many dairies are reverting to the traditional approach of sending cows out to pasture on grass.
“Pasture does wonders for cow health,” Bob said. “There’s so much evidence that they are much happier out there. You can extend their lives so much by keeping them off concrete, so the trend is going that way.”
Is it a soggy sentimentality for farmers to want their cows to be happy? Shouldn’t a businessman just worry about the bottom line?
Bob frowned. “For productivity, it’s important to have happy cows,” he said. “If a cow is at her maximum health and her maximum contentedness, she’s profitable. I don’t even really manage my farm so much from a fiscal standpoint as from a cow standpoint, because I know that, if I take care of those cows, the bottom line will take care of itself.”
This isn’t to say that Bob’s farm is a charity hostel. When cows age and their milk production drops, farmers slaughter them. Bob has always found that part of dairying tough, so, increasingly, he uses the older cows to suckle steers. That way the geriatric cows bring in revenue to cover their expenses and their day of reckoning can be postponed — indefinitely, in the case of his favorite cows.
I teased Bob about running a bovine retirement home, and he smiled unapologetically.
“I feel good about it,” he said simply. “They support me as much as I support them, so it’s easy to get attached to them. I want to work hard for them because they’ve taken good care of me.”
Like many farmers, Bob frets about regulations and reporting requirements, but he also sympathizes with recent animal rights laws meant to improve the treatment of livestock and poultry.
“You hate to have it go to legislation, but we need to protect the animals,” he said. “They’re living things, and you have to treat them right.”
Granted, such a humane attitude may be easier to apply to dairying than to poultry. It’s tough for cage-free poultry farms to compete economically with huge industrial operations that raise millions of birds jammed into cages, and healthy food that is good for humans and animals in some cases will cost more.
Moreover, we’re never going to revert to the kind of agriculture that existed a century ago. Bob’s 600 acres used to be farmed by five different families, and that consolidation won’t be undone. But neither is it inevitable that consolidation will continue indefinitely so that America’s farms end up as vast, industrial, soulless food factories.
I loved growing up on a sheep and cherry farm, even if that did mean getting up at 3 a.m. in the winter to check for newborn lambs, and I hope medium-size family farms remain a pillar of rural America. As Bob’s dairy shows, food need not come at the cost of animal or human health and welfare. We need not wince when we contemplate where our food comes from.
The next time you drink an Organic Valley glass of milk, it may have come from one of Bob’s cows. If so, you can bet it was a happy cow. And it has a name.

I invite you to comment on this column on my blog, On the Ground. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What is sustainable agriculture?

It's pretty easy to identify what's unsustainable about agriculture today: the cramming of thousands of animals in warehouses and keeping them alive in unnatural conditions with antibiotics and hormones; the storing of millions of gallons of waste generated by these animals in lagoons and then mixing this toxic brew with huge amounts of clean water in order to spray it on the land; and the many ways this waste makes its way into our water and poisons our air.

But what exactly is sustainable agriculture? As legally defined in U.S. Code Title 7, Section 3103, sustainable agriculture means "an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will over the long term:
  • Satisfy human food and fiber needs.
  • Enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends.
  • Make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls.
  • Sustain the economic viability of farm operations.
  • Enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole."

However, we don't think this definition goes far enough. We prefer our own, which is the result of input from farmers and diverse organizations working on the issue. Here it is:

Sustainable farming is a system that emphasizes stewardship of natural and human resources and is grounded in the principle that we must meet our present food needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own. It protects and improves the soil, conserves native biodiversity and habitats, and provides viable farm livelihoods as a consequence of food production. Sustainable farms are appropriate for the landscape and the local economy, and produce safe, healthy food while treating workers with respect and animals humanely and sustaining communities.

What do you think? What's your definition of sustainable agriculture?

Friday, June 01, 2012

All Hands on the Poop Check: Learn How to Monitor Water for Animal Factory Pollution!

Lynn Henning takes a sample from a waterway near a CAFO.

One of the most important weapons in the fight against polluting animal factories or CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) is the evidence our volunteers gather in waterways near these facilities.

Concerned citizens have helped us collect vital data on the levels of pathogens and bacteria that end up in rivers and streams when manure and waste runs off from farm fields, leaks from storage lagoons or is intentionally dumped. They also check for dissolved oxygen levels, which are lowered by excess nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that come from CAFOs and contribute to fish kills.

The Sierra Club is offering two free introductory webinars for folks interested in learning more about monitoring for animal factory water pollution.  They will take place Thursday, June 21, and Tuesday, June 26, from 7-8 pm.

Both webinars will be conducted by Goldman Environmental Prize Winner Lynn Henning and Scott Dye, Sierra Club Water Sentinels program director. They will give an overview of the types of pollution caused by CAFOs, how water monitoring is done and what we do with the data.

Participants will also have the opportunity to sign up for advanced training to become a volunteer water monitor of an animal factory in their area.  

To register for a webinar, email and specify the webinar date in the subject line. We'll send call-in details the week before the webinar.

Questions? Contact or

Monday, May 21, 2012

Do you eat? Pay taxes? Watch this video!

Animal factory manure flowing into a Michigan waterway.
If you're like most people, you probably don't know much about the Farm Bill or just think it's an abstract piece of legislation that has something to with farmers but not much to do with you. In reality, it's a vital (and complex) bill that has a huge impact on our daily lives because it determines what kind of food we think is important enough to spend large amounts of taxpayer money on -- and that comes down to whether we support polluting animal factories or sustainable farmers.  

Right now, as it has for years, the bill heavily favors the kind of practices and needs of animal factories and gives short shrift to the kind of agriculture that works in harmony with nature and produces healthy, safe food for our families. 

For a quick lesson in why the Farm Bill should matter to you, check out this short video from Watershed Media, the folks who brought you the book CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories. 

The Farm Bill comes up every five years, and Farm Bill 2012 is being hammered out right now, so it's a good time to let your legislators know what kind of food and farmers you want the bill to support.  To learn what you can do to make a difference, visit 

Monday, May 07, 2012

Last Call at the Oasis Opens Nationwide

Last Call at the Oasis, a new documentary about the global water crisis that features the Sierra Club Michigan's own Lynn Henning, opened nationwide last weekend to great reviews.  Lynn's work documenting animal factory pollution is spotlighted in the film, right alongside renowned environmental activist Erin Brockovich.

Last Call at the Oasis will be coming to Michigan soon. Watch this space for details.  In the meantime, check out this trailer for the movie.

And here's a sampling of reviews from around the country:

LA Times: 'Last Call at the Oasis' smartly sounds alarm on water 

New York Times: When There Really is not a Drop to Drink  

NPRFor Americans' Water, It's Last Call at the Oasis

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Welcome to the Farms Without Harm Forum!

Thanks for visiting this forum for people who want to do something about the polluting animal factories in Michigan!  Hosted by the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club, this blog's purpose is to connect you with like-minded folks so you can share experiences and ideas, get the latest news on this issue, and help us build a movement to increase the pressure on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Michigan while growing the support for sustainable, small farmers around the state. 

In the coming months, you’ll hear about a new campaign involving diverse groups that address various aspects of the animal factory issue.  We're building a coalition to apply real pressure to animal factories from many sides.

Michigan has more than 230 animal factories lurking off the radar in rural areas. Out of sight, out of mind, maybe, but they have a real, negative impact on our daily lives, whether or not we get our food from small, sustainable farms. These livestock warehouses generate millions of gallons of manure annually, poisoning our water and air while sucking the life out of local economies. Even when they violate federal and state regulations, CAFOs get rewarded with the lion’s share of federal subsidies (our tax dollars), under-cutting the very farmers we support with our shopping habits.

For more than a decade, Sierra Club's Michigan Chapter has tackled head on the pollution side of the CAFO issue-- tracking manure run-off, alerting the authorities to violations, lobbying for better laws and oversight, educating citizens, and suing operations when necessary. Our own Lynn Henning has gained international recognition for her work documenting the pollution of these “farms."

Now, we’re taking it to the next level. Later this year, you’ll hear about a new campaign to ratchet up our efforts as the state’s CAFO watchdog while being more aggressive in our support of sustainable agriculture. We’ll involve many groups and individuals like you in the effort to apply pressure to these corporate polluters.

We’re excited about this campaign, but it won’t be effective without you! You can join the fight for a better food system in a number of ways right now:

Finally, stay up to date on the progress of our new campaign, learn about events and things you can do to help by signing up to be on our email list. You’ll learn about the campaign’s blog and website where you can share thoughts and ideas with like-minded people and help build the movement with us! Just contact

Thanks!  We look forward to working with you.