Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Panel Featuring Food Fight Author Dan Imhoff to Explore Disconnect in Our Food System Mar. 21

Michigan consumers seeking safe, locally-grown, healthy food at farmers markets and other outlets are currently forced to subsidize corporate agricultural giants through taxpayer subsidies. An expert panel sponsored by a new sustainable agriculture coalition, Less = More, will address the situation and opportunities to change the food system and the federal Farm Bill to better serve consumers.

Nationally known author and farmer Daniel Imhoff joins other farmers and experts to explore the disconnect in our food system and how to begin to create a fair playing field for sustainable livestock farmers in the discussion, Less=More: Restoring the Balance to Our Food System.  The event is free and open to the public.  RSVP by Mar. 18 to or 312-493-2384.

Most industrial livestock ‘farms’ operate like a factory and confine animals in warehouses or crowded feedlots with no vegetation. Although they generate millions of gallons of waste, these facilities receive substantial taxpayer subsidies even when they pollute the water, air and land through poor disposal of that waste, violating state and federal environmental laws. Meanwhile, farmers with good practices that produce healthy, clean food and don’t harm our natural resources struggle to survive.

Less=More: Restoring the Balance to Our Food System will look at the economic, environmental and health impacts of polluting livestock factories and how taxpayer subsidies perpetuate their existence. The panel, hosted by a new sustainable agriculture coalition called Less=More, will also look at ways to address the unfair advantage these subsidies give factory farms over sustainable livestock farms, including recommendations from the coalition’s recently released report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, available at
Daniel Imhoff, Co-founder of Watershed Media and an author and farmer—Imhoff will discuss the economics of factory farms and the Farm Bill. He is an author, publisher and small-scale farmer in California who has focused for more than 20 years on issues of food, agriculture and the environment. Co-founder of Watershed Media and Wild Farm Alliance, he has written many articles, essays, and books, including Food Fight: The Citizen's Guide to the Next Food and Farm Bill; CAFO: The Tragedy of Industrial Animal Factories, and Farming with the Wild.

Gail Hansen, Senior Officer and Staff Veterinarian, Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, Pew Charitable Trusts—Hansen looks at the role factory farms play in antibiotic resistance and other health impacts. Hansen served as the state epidemiologist and state public health veterinarian for 12 years with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment where her work centered on infectious diseases and developing public health policy. Prior to that, she was a principal investigator and coordinator of blood borne pathogen studies at the Seattle and King County Department of Public Health. She has served on or chaired numerous state and federal infectious disease committees, served as a scientific advisor for national and international conferences and is adjunct faculty at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Joe Maxwell, President of Outreach and Engagement at The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—Maxwell examines the lives of animals and farmers in the factory farm system. He grew up on a family farm in the small town of Rush Hill, Mo., the son of a hard-working family farmer. In his role at The HSUS, he works directly with family farmers, helping them organize into producer groups to open direct markets for their own products. Maxwell is a former president of the Association of Family Farmers, an organization associated with the Agriculture of the Middle Project, and a member of the Organization for Competitive Markets and the Missouri Farmers Union.

Lynn Henning, Sierra Club Water Sentinel—Henning will discuss the relationship between environmental pollution and farm subsidies in Michigan. She received the 2010 Goldman Environmental Prize for North America for more than a decade’s worth of work tracking environmental abuses at factory farms around her small family farm in south central Michigan. Her painstaking research is the basis of the Less=More report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape. She’s been featured in O Magazine and the 2013 water documentary Last Call at the Oasis and appeared on Real Time with Bill Maher in 2012.

Maynard Beery, Beery Farms of Michigan-- Beery raises grass-fed beef and goats in Mason, MI and will give the perspective of a sustainable livestock farmer on how the lopsided subsidy system affects his ability to compete with industrial livestock operations. A former large-scale livestock confinement operator, he switched to humane, environmentally friendly farming more than a decade ago. He uses the Argentine grazing style of a diverse array of perennial grasses and summer-winter annuals to meet year-round forage needs of the animals, and his farm is in transition to organic certification.

The Less=More Coalition is a group of organizations engaged in various aspects of our food system who seek to level the farm field for sustainable farmers in Michigan. They include: Beery Farms of Michigan, LLC, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, LLC, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Zeeland, The Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Farmers Union, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.  Learn more at

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Eating less meat would benefit the nutrient cycle, Planet Earth Online, Feb 18, 2013

by Harriet Jarlett

A new report suggests that halving our consumption of animal products could benefit the environment by improving nutrient cycles. Eating fewer dairy products could reduce your impact on the environment

The report, commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), analysed the problems caused by human interference in the natural cycles of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.
'Just like the carbon cycle is disturbed, the nitrogen and phosphorus cycles are also disturbed. Except these are disturbed even more. We've doubled the nitrogen going into the environment over the past 100 years,' says Professor Mark Sutton, from the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, lead author of the report.

Although our atmosphere is around 80 per cent nitrogen, it's unreactive and stabilises the atmosphere. But plants can't use this unreactive form, so in order to be useful to plants and animals it needs to be converted to compounds like nitrate and ammonia in a process that also creates the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide.

Industrial processes convert atmospheric nitrogen into reactive nitrogen for making fertilisers. But there's also nitrogen we unintentially put into circulation; through electricity generation and car emissions. This converts some of the nitrogen in the atmosphere into nitrous oxide, which although useful for plants also causes pollution in the form of ozone - a chemical that can actually reduce plant growth.

'This was great from the perspective that we needed to feed a growing population so the fertiliser had an incredible benefit,' says Sutton. 'But what we didn't plan was leaking nitrogen out into the environment.'
'It's not about being vegetarian or not, but about how much meat you eat. It's about being demi-tarian'

Professor Mark Sutton - CEH
He explains that the more steps you have in the food chain the more opportunities you have for nutrients to be lost at each stage: from fertiliser to plant, plant to animal, a fraction of the nutrients leaks out each time. If people chose not to eat meat they would cut out one of these steps, and reduce the points in the food chain nutrients can be lost from.

Reducing personal meat consumption was just one of ten key actions the report suggested could reduce the amount of nitrogen going into the environment.

'If you analyse the numbers it's quite amazing that of the nitrogen taken up by plants, 80 per cent of the amount harvested goes to feed livestock. Only 20 per cent feeds people directly, showing the massive inefficiency.' Sutton urges, 'it's not about being vegetarian or not, but about how much meat you eat. It's about being demi-tarian.'

He explains that if you halve the amount of meat and dairy consumption, you are still a meat eater but you have reduced your impact on the environment by up to a half.

The report also showed that rapidly expanding countries like India and South-East Asia are currently raising their meat consumption as they increasingly adopt western diets. It's estimated there could be up to 50 per cent more pollution as consumption increases by 2050, and this will mostly be in developing countries. 'If Europe were to say 'hey we have a new relationship with animal products, we're eating less meat' you potentially get a feedback between continents. You affect aspirations across cultures and you might get people to aspire to this new way of thinking about animal products.'

Europe and the UK can lead the way in this. We need to challenge society to find out that it's in its own best interests not to over consume meat products. 'If we as Europe go for optimum consumption, not always the most of everything, it's going to improve health, and benefit the environment. There's an optimum to be found between what's on your plate and helping the environment.'

The report supports a 20 per cent improvement in nitrogen efficiency by 2020, which would reduce the use of nitrogen fertilizer by 20 million tonnes per year. They term this global aspiration, '20:20 for 2020'.

It's seven years and ten months until the 2020 deadline, but Sutton promises there's a lot you can do in this time. The measures listed in the report include actions which are already available, and could all make substantial contributions to nutrient management. 'There's already a big difference between countries achieving better nitrogen efficiency than others, like Denmark, where they're taking action that we in the UK haven't yet, but in principle, from a technical perspective, we can do it,' he concludes.

The report "Our Nutrient World" is published by the NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology [on behalf of the Global Programme on Nutrient Management and the International Nitrogen Initiative]. The report is available on line at:


Restoring the Balance to the Farm Landscape
Thurs., March 21, 6:30pm
B119 Wells Hall Auditorium, MSU, East Lansing
A panel discussion about factory farms and their impact on the environment, economy, public health and animals, and what we can do to change the system. Featuring:

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Less=More and New Report about Taxpayer $$ Favoring Factory Farms over Sus Ag Covered by Michigan Radio

Michigan organic farmers want better access to federal farm subsidy money
Feb. 17, 2013, Michigan Radio

Environmental and organic farming groups want a change in the way federal agriculture subsidies are handed out.

Anne Woiwode is the Sierra Club’s state director. She says a relatively small number of large animal feeding operations in Michigan have a big advantage over the state’s organic farmers.  
Woiwode says the big producers have better access to federal subsidies, in particular the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers.   The financial assistance helps agri-businesses plan and implement conservation practices that improve soil, water, plant, animal, air and related resources on agricultural land.

Woiwode says not having as much access to the program puts Michigan’s organic farmers at a disadvantage in the marketplace and forces consumers to pay more if they want organic products.
She says the aim of the campaign is to shift funding priorities away from polluting large animal feeding operations and towards organic Michigan farmers.

“There are 50,000 farmers in Michigan. 238 of them are these massive operations that are polluting and competing unfairly with the rest,” says Woiwode. “It’s about time we paid attention to the rest of the 50,000.”

A spokeswoman for the Michigan Farm Bureau says there is nothing new in the group’s complaints about the Environmental Quality Incentive Program.
Laura Campbell is the bureau’s Agricultural Ecology Manager.  She says the program’s limited funds are distributed as widely as possible.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Big news!  Less=More, a new coalition of groups supporting sustainable farming in Michigan, unveiled a new report about how taxpayer subsidies favor polluting factory farms in Michigan over the sustainable farms people like you go out of your way to support at farmers markets and CSAs.  Meanwhile, your tax dollars go to giant animal warehouses that poison the water, air, land and food. Less=More believes less support to factory farms means a more sustainable Michigan.

Check out the Less=More press release below announcing its new report, Restoring the Balance to Michigan's Farming Landscape.  And check out their website at

New Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Calls for Reforms of Funding Priorities for Michigan Farm Subsidies


Feb. 15, 2013   Media Contact: Gail Philbin, 312-493-2384

Lansing, Mich.—Taxpayers are providing millions of dollars in government subsidies to industrial mega-farms in Michigan under policies that unfairly favor corporate agricultural giants while ignoring massive pollution and health risks, and undermining safe, sustainable farms that are growing in consumer popularity, according to a report released today by a new sustainable agriculture coalition.

Restoring the Balance to Michigan’s Farming Landscape, a report issued by Less=More, a new coalition supporting sustainable farming in Michigan, offers a window into the bias of one specific federal Farm Bill program, the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP).  Since 1995, under this program Michigan factory farms (also known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs), have raked in millions of dollars of tax subsidies that are inaccessible to sustainable and organic livestock operations. This inequity keeps prices for factory farm products artificially low compared to healthier, locally grown meat, dairy and egg products, and increases threats to health and the environment by encouraging more massive, concentrated livestock facilities.

“Families and businesses that support local, sustainably grown foods deserve to know that millions of dollars of our federal taxes are supporting polluting factory farms here in Michigan,” said Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter director. “That hurts our environment, the public’s health and Michigan farmers who work hard to provide us with clean, healthy food,”

Most CAFOs look and operate more like a factory than a farm, confining livestock in warehouses often for their entire lives or in crowded, open feedlots with no vegetation. These mega “farms” receive substantial taxpayer subsidies even when poor disposal practices of the millions of gallons of chemical- and contaminant-filled wastes they generate lead to pollution of water, land and air, and violations of state and federal environmental laws.

“This lopsided support happens at a time when many independent, environmentally responsible farmers whose practices don’t pollute are struggling to make ends meet,” said Sandy Nordmark, vice president of the Michigan Farmers Union. “It’s also taking place at a time when Michigan consumers want more products from sustainable farmers, not less. Direct sales at farmers markets, local stores, restaurants and through community supported agriculture are one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural community.”

According to Restoring the Balance, 37 Michigan factory farms cited for environmental violations and unpermitted discharges over the 15 years ending in 2011 were awarded nearly $27 million in Farm Bill subsidies between 1995 and 2011.  Of these operations, 26 jointly racked up fines and penalties of more than $1.3 million for their share of these violations.

Under the Michigan EQIP program, administered by the USDA’s Natural Resource Conservation Service Michigan office, dramatic disparities in funding exist between practices used exclusively by CAFOs, such as waste lagoons, and those used by sustainable livestock operations to achieve similar goals.  The report also documents environmental problems and threats posed by factory farm practices and structures funded by EQIP, and provides case studies with real world examples of the problems.

“Michiganders should know that something can be done to fix this uneven playing field. Less support to factory farms means a more sustainable, greener Michigan,” said Sierra Club’s Woiwode. “We invite supporters of sustainable and organic, locally grown foods to join the Less=More Coalition to help bring that change about.”

Restoring the Balance explains that the State Conservationist of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Michigan, with advice from a state Technical Committee, has the needed authority to correct the system that puts farmers devoted to sustainable rearing of animals at a disadvantage while rewarding polluting industrial operations that harm the environment and threaten public health.

In a meeting with NRCS State Conservationist Garry Lee on Feb. 14, the Less=More Coalition presented its finding and urged him to take action. The coalition recommendations include:

  • Require CAFO applicants to list all citations for any environmental or health-related law violation;
  • Require CAFO applicants to document compliance with state and federal environmental laws, including keeping up-to-date records and Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans, which guide handling of animal waste;
  • Institute accountability into the system through:
          o  Requiring an independent verification of whether or not operators complete work as funded;
          o  Withhold funds until all prior subsidized work is documented;
          o  Require testing of the effectiveness of practices, both in general and at specific sites, with
              independent scientific committee to review and approve practices authorized for subsidies;
          o  Eliminate practices from EQIP funding that do not provide environmental benefits.
  • Restructure the ranking system to invest the majority of EQIP funds into practices designed to achieve program’s environmental objectives, including fully funding planning based on practices for traditional sustainable livestock and certified organic livestock farms just as factory farm Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans are funded;
  • Provide training to District and County Conservationists in sustainable practices so they can objectively assess proposed projects;
  • Make it a priority for local and district conservationists to reach out to sustainable farmers in their region and educate them about the funding opportunities available through EQIP, and
  • Streamline paperwork for organic farmers applying for EQIP by allowing use of some of their organic certification documentation in EQIP application.
An abstract of Restoring the Balance is attached and the full report is available at:

For questions, contact Sandy Nordmark, Michigan Farmers Union, 269-979-3968; and Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club, or 517-484-2372.

The Less=More Coalition is a group of organizations engaged in various aspects of our food system who seek to level the playing field for sustainable farmers in Michigan. They include: Beery Farms of Michigan, LLC, the Center for Food Safety, Crane Dance Farm, LLC, Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan, Food & Water Watch, Greater Grand Rapids Food Systems Council, Groundswell Farm, Zeeland, Humane Society of the United States, Michigan Farmers Union, Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy, Michigan Young Farmers Coalition, Sierra Club Michigan Chapter and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project.

Less support for factory farms means a more sustainable Michigan. Visit