Press Release

ELPC Report: CAFOs Pose Greater Risk to Michigan Water Pollution & Human Health

Recommendations offer range of solutions beyond ineffective voluntary programs

A new report by the Environmental Law & Policy Center offers a comprehensive analysis of how Michigan’s largest livestock operations – known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs – contribute to polluting the state’s waters and harming human health, and how the state’s legal and regulatory system is failing to curb it. The report also offers recommendations on how the state can and should address this worsening problem.

Read Report

The report, which includes the latest 5-year agricultural census data just published by US Department of Agriculture, shows that while the 290 permitted CAFOs in Michigan represent less than 1% of the 40,000-plus farms in the state, animals on those CAFOs generate 17 million more pounds of fecal waste per day than the state’s entire population of 10 million humans. The data show that the number of animals raised in Michigan is rising each year, while the number of livestock farms keeps shrinking, a clear indication of further consolidation in livestock production, with industrial-scale production displacing smaller and medium-sized farms.

The report describes how these massive CAFOs aren’t required to treat their animal waste before spraying it on nearby crop fields, and how a lot of that waste isn’t absorbed by plants and instead flows into Michigan’s waters. Nutrients in that liquified manure are driving ongoing outbreaks of harmful algal blooms and E. coli pollution throughout the state, including in Lake Erie’s Western Basin. Other industrial-scale operations that dump their byproducts into the state’s waterways are strictly regulated and must treat their discharges to minimize pollutants that threaten human health. The regulatory oversight of CAFOs is much more lax in comparison.

“We ask a fundamental question in this report: is it fair for Michigan’s taxpayers, family-scale farmers, and the environment to continue shouldering the burden of CAFO-caused water pollution?” asks Katie Garvey, ELPC staff attorney and the report’s author. “We argue the fairer approach is to treat CAFOs like the industrial-scale polluters they are. CAFOs should be held to the same ‘polluter pays’ principle that any steel mill or oil company must abide by to reduce the pollutants they release into the environment.”

The set of voluntary best management practices that the state has been urging all farmers in Michigan to adopt hasn’t moved the needle to reduce algal blooms or E. coli pollution, and CAFO permits are ineffective and inadequately enforced. The report’s recommendations include a statewide nutrient pollution control plan, stronger CAFO permits coupled with proper enforcement, and an end to spending money on voluntary programs that aren’t producing results.

Related Projects

View All
Clean Water

Protecting Northwest Indiana

Clean Water

Protecting the Great Lakes

Clean Water

Cleaning Up Lake Erie

Clean Water

Monitoring EPA Enforcement in the Midwest