Gone Afield, Amuck, and Afar

Engaging in issues of who gets to decide who gets to grow food gets you to fundamental values very fast.  Food and farm issues strike to the core of what it means to be a good citizen, a good neighbor, and a good parent - and at its extreme becomes about whether we have enough food to sustain ourselves, our families, and our communities.  The response of hundreds of Michigan citizens during the Public Comments opposing the changes to the proposed 2014 Site Selection GAAMPs read like the script of a Jimmy Stewart movie, with good people fighting for the simple right to grow food where they live to benefit themselves and their neighbors, in a responsible way.   

Whenever the conversation moves past what the proposed changes to the 2014 Site Selection GAAMPs will do, and gets to the question of why MDARD would want to thwart small farm operations in our state, I always say that our small farms are not the issue.  I don't think MDARD has ever viewed our operations as dangerous or threatening to the environment or to public health.  Instead, MDARD has said on many occasions that their real concern is that small farm issues will bring RTF back to the legislature for amendment, to the possible detriment of other kinds of farms in the state.  

What this means, I think, is that MDARD fears that if Right to Farm goes back to the legislature for any reason, that large industrial agricultural operations will get unwanted attention and scrutiny - that there will be a very public Jimmy Stewart moment in which the people of Michigan are educated about the damage that these large operations have already done to our environment, to animal welfare, and to food quality, and about the intentions of MDARD to further intensify this industry in Michigan.  If that happens, then RTF protection for corporate agriculture in Michigan really will be at risk, and the face of agriculture in Michigan really could change.  That is what is at stake for MDARD, and is why they are willing to fight with such vigor against the thousands of small farmers in Michigan who use Right to Farm to protect the kinds of operations that produce small amounts of food in traditional, sustainable ways, without harm to neighbors, the environment, or public health.

If that all seems unlikely, just take a look at the last time our state senate discussed Right to Farm, when it was last amended in 1999 as Senate Bill No. 205; the following is quoted directly from the Journal of the Senate from October 7, 1999, with a bold font added to some of the text by me.  This is a very long quote, but I think it is very informative; in my view it is the updated, 2014 version of this 1999 debate that MDARD is working to avoid.  Here it is:

Senators Cherry and Byrum, under their constitutional right of protest (Art. 4, Sec. 18), protested against the passage of Senate Bill No. 205 and moved that the statements they made during the discussion of the amendments and the bill be printed as their reasons for voting “no.”

The motion prevailed.

Senator Cherry’s statement is as follows:
I rise in opposition of Senate Bill No. 205 with some reluctance because I do believe as the previous speaker has said that the family farm is in crisis and does need some concerted action on the part of the state to help ease the plight of the family farmer. But it strikes me that what Senate Bill No. 205 does, under the guise of protecting the family farmer, ultimately takes the rights away from a community on behalf of allowing big corporate factory farms to flourish in this state. I don’t personally believe that’s what our purpose is here today to do, but I think that’s the ultimate effect of Senate Bill No. 205. And on that basis, I intend to vote “no.”

I do so because ultimately the ability of a local community to express its concern, its desires and to plan for its future by the zoning process is an important aspect of representative democracy. What you have is elected officials voted in and elected by local citizens developing a zoning process which expresses the concerns of those citizens.  This bill will take away from those popularly elected representatives the ability to put in place certain zoning regulations and invest that responsibility in an appointed state commission. It will attempt to do that ultimately by utilizing a system that’s complaint-based. State oversight applies only after the operation has disrupted a community, after it has ultimately destroyed home values or, in certain instances, put home businesses out of business. That’s the result of a complaint-based system. The value of local zoning is that it prevents the offensive operation in the first place.

Now, generally a family farm does not present that kind of public threat or hazard. But, believe you me, the size of some of these corporate operations we refer to as factory farms are of such a degree that it can disrupt a community.  It can make life unbearable for citizens in that community. Today, with this bill, we’re saying that those citizens should not have a voice in this process and that we are going to take away their majority rights and invest them in an appointed state commission which will regulate these concerns after the fact. I think that’s unsatisfactory. I think we will regret the day that we adopt Senate Bill No. 205. As one speaker has said, the complaints will start rolling in because quite literally these operations will disrupt lives. They will destroy home values, and they will make life unbearable through noxious odors. They will put other businesses out of place. In fact, by allowing these big corporate farms to invade these communities without local community check, we will drive many family farms out of business. That will be the impact of Senate Bill No. 205.  

I think the obligation of this body is to stand up for that local public right to protect its public health, to protect its community welfare, and to protect its future through maintaining zoning on these major operations. I think it is appropriate to target in and give some leeway and protection to the family farm. But to simply abandon the scene wholesale, as Senate Bill No. 205 would do, I think is dangerous, inappropriate, and an action that we will regret in the long run. On that basis, Mr. President, I intend to vote “no.”  

Senator Byrum’s first statement is as follows:
I very much want to support this legislation. In fact, I have worked diligently both in terms of this task force on agriculture as well as my committee work. I have felt right from the beginning that we were moving way too fast on this legislation and that we ought to take a deep breath and continue working on it. I think that has been evident by the number of subs and amendments that have both been floating around on this legislation for the last couple of days.  With that aside, what I am trying to do here is narrow the scope of this legislation because I think all of us can agree that we want to protect family farms and family farming operations, but we walk a very fine line in our townships that are continuing to be more suburbanized when we give absolute protection and take away from local control the ability to regulate these intensive animal operations—I’m talking about these factory farms. If we do not alter Senate Bill No. 205 with amendments such as what I present to you now, we will be establishing Michigan as a haven for factory farms with very little ability, really no ability, for the locals to regulate them. We will be giving that authority to the Ag Commission, who will apply a set of best practices, a guideline, a guidebook and not promulgated rules. Now these  “generally accepted agriculture management practices,” GAAMPS, is a guidebook. It is not rules that have been promulgated through the administrative rules process. It’s a moving target.  So what I’m doing here is I’m defining family farm as 1,000 animal units or less. Now this is a federal definition that will fold right into what’s going on the federal level as they look at regulating these intensive factory farm operations. So it is a nationally recognized definition that makes sense. A thousand animal units would mean 1,000 head of dairy or beef cattle, but it would mean a couple thousand heads of hogs and several thousand chickens. It is a scale. It’s a benchmark that means something nationally and something that the Department of Agriculture can very easily define and implement. It is a nationally recognized standard. And from checking with the Department of Agriculture, we’re talking about an approximate 100 farms in Michigan that would be over this 1,000 animal or livestock units.

So we’re clearly addressing the family farms, but we need to narrow this definition because I do not believe any of us want to remove local control when it comes to siting and regulating factory farms. If any of you want to live next door to 10,000 head of hogs, I would submit to you that you are going to be the first person in line, pounding on the table and wanting to know why your local unit of government can have no input on what’s going on here. This is a very important amendment. It needs to be adopted. It’s the right thing to do, and it will move this legislation forward and most likely allow it to get if not unanimous, clearly strong bi-partisan support. So in that spirit, I offer this amendment.

Senator Byrum’s second statement is as follows:
Just a couple of points to clarify exactly what I’m trying to do here.  There was a mention as to the EPA guidelines and that we’re going to wait as a state for the federal government to come down from high and dictate to us as to exactly what we’re going to do as to how it relates to the confined feeding operations. First of all, there are already EPA guidelines in place. Michigan has been very hesitant and dragging our feet, and we have not implemented those guidelines that we know are in existence right now. If we are going to wait until either we are fined by the federal government or there is some reason or push behind the state Department of Ag to implement these guidelines, I really don’t know why we would put the townships at risk until that point in time might occur.

If we basically remove all local regulations for the siting and the operation of these large livestock feeding operations, then we are going to be creating a haven in Michigan for their placement. It is counter to what is going on nationally in some very large agriculture states. Because if you create a haven for these large feeding operations, you put at risk the family farm.  Now what I’m attempting to do here is to carve out the family farm operations using the federal EPA definition of what an intensive feeding operation is, so it matches what is going to be those national guidelines. I think this is necessary.

I also tried to make the argument in committee and with my colleagues that, if we’re going to do this, and I can go along with the principal of what we’re doing, then we might better do this in the context of ag security zones, the Schuette legislation, that I think moves us significantly in the right direction and tie this to the Schuette legislation so it makes sense in an overall land-use pattern.  And also remember GAAMPS are not promulgated rules. We are now linking enforcement and zoning to best practice guidelines that are a free-flowing document and are not rules.

I think we are gone afield, amuck, and afar. This legislation needs more thoughtful debate and work before we’re on a rush to pass it. This amendment takes us a long ways in the right direction. I think it’s the best thing to do. Remember there’s a hundred farms out there right now that you would call intensive agriculture operations that would come under these EPA guidelines anyway. Let’s exempt them out and let the townships handle them because nobody else seems to be interested in doing that right now. It’s to protect the residents.

I urge the adoption of my amendment.

Senator Byrum’s third statement is as follows:
I want to follow-up on my amendment to Senate Bill No. 205 and just a couple of comments that were made.  First of all, I think we need to recognize that there is a difference in the intensity of the agriculture between a factory farm with over a thousand animal units and those under and the dramatic impacts and effects it has on the community and the environment. We are kidding ourselves if we have blinders on to that impact.

We talked a lot about GAAMPS. Well, GAAMPS does not have a different tier or a different set of guidelines for intensive animal operations. You need to be very cognizant of that. Plus GAAMPS are not promulgated rules. They are a moving target. Now are we going to put local townships and their ability to impact and regulate what goes on in their townships against a moving target in an area that is very sensitive to people we represent? I think you have to have a broader vision of who those residents and people are and the frustration level we’re all going to experience as well as those township officials when somebody wants to site one of these intensive animal operations, and the township board says, “You go call your Senator, and you find out how they voted to pull away our ability to have any local voice or enforcement on that.” It’s going to happen. Michigan will be a haven for these kinds of operations if we wholesale strip that power away from local governments.

Now there’s a balance here that needs to occur. This amendment strikes that balance. It’s sensitive to family farms, which I want to be, and I fully support. But it recognizes the difference.

Also, you have to realize that when you say we want to get the bad actors out, well, the Department of Agriculture commission has no enforcement power for those bad actors. So they say, “Well, you’re not in compliance.” Now we’re going to go into another department for an investigation, most likely DEQ, and we’re going to continue this whole game plan down the road.

What we’re doing here is not addressing the full issue. Since we’re not going to be allowing the committee to do its work or give more time on the floor, this is my best approach, and I think it moves us significantly forward to address some of the issues that are pending on this legislation. I urge your adoption. You need to adopt this amendment for your own townships’ and residents’ sakes.

Senator Byrum’s fourth statement is as follows:
As someone who has a degree in agriculture, who lives on a family farm, and spent an awful lot of time working as the vice chair on the Senate agriculture task force—outside of the good chair, Senator McManus, and his personal staff—I probably put more hours than anyone else did on that task force and that report. So I come to this issue with a deep understanding of agriculture, as well as a real commitment and desire to see a strong agricultural economy.

I really don’t believe this chamber differs in our desire to have a strong vibrant agricultural economy. I have worked to try to improve this legislation, to narrow the scope of application to protect family farms, and use that definition of 1,000 livestock units. However, I believe what we are doing is reaching too far. We are setting up a situation where we are creating Michigan as a safe haven for large corporate factory farms. We are relying on GAAMPS, which are not promulgated rules but the best practice guidelines that are a free-flowing document. This is coupled with the fact that Michigan may be the last state in the nation that is refusing to recognize the EPA guidelines on large, intensive livestock operations and the threat to the environment to the public health, safety, and welfare that they may pose if they are not properly run.

Also, as a member of that committee, we are going to go through the resolution process because the good Senator Gougeon understands that the apple concentrate coming from China and the strawberries coming from Mexico are federal issues that need to be dealt with on a federal level. The only ability we have as a state is through resolution and communicating to our members of Congress. Do not get sidetracked in thinking that this single piece of legislation is going to address that whole array of issues which that report indicates. What we are doing is stripping local control.

We are taking local zoning decisions away from townships, cities, villages, counties, and the citizens—putting them in an appointed Department of Agriculture to use some loose guidelines that are voluntary and have a complaint-driven enforcement mechanism that is only going to compound and exacerbate the situation.

We had an opportunity to come together and pass legislation that had strong bipartisan support. Regretfully, we chose not to follow a path that could bring us together, and we ended up with Senate Bill No. 205 in its amended version that is going to fall largely on a partisan vote. That’s unfortunate because the future of Michigan agriculture is not a partisan question. It is a question we need to come together and address. It is my hope that as we continue down the road on the recommendations of this task force, we are able to use common sense and find some common ground for the benefit of all residents of Michigan. So having said that, I will be voting “no” on the bill.

Senators Schuette, Goschka, McManus, Cherry, Gougeon and Jaye asked and were granted unanimous consent to make statements and moved that the statements they made during the discussion of the amendments and passage of Senate Bill No. 205 be printed in the Journal.

The motion prevailed.

Senator Schuette’s statement is as follows:
I rise in opposition to the Byrum amendment and support the efforts of Senator McManus and Senator Gougeon on this right-to-farm legislation. I think the perspective that’s important here is that agriculture is a business, whether it’s a family business, a small operation or a big operation. It’s the conduct, it’s the behavior, it’s the responsibility of the family business whether they are incorporated for tax reasons, whether they are a partnership, whether they choose to or not. It is their conduct and behavior in the operation of their farm that are the issues.

If there is a bad actor, if there’s someone who is not behaving and operating in consistant manners in terms of Department of Environmental Quality, in terms of water, effluent and run off, whether it’s erosion or emissions in the air, it’s a big livestock operation. Whether you are big or small, you have to abide by the very stringent rules, conditions of generally accepted agriculture management practices.

So what will happen in Michigan today under this legislation is, whether you are a big operator or a small, if you violate these rules and guidelines and practices, you’ll be shut down! And we shouldn’t differentiate in terms of strictness and concern for the environment, land or water or air as to whether you have a 1,000 hogs or 500 because the result is the same. If we’re not taking care of the water correctly, if a stream is being polluted, it doesn’t matter whether there’s a 100 head of hog or 2,000 head of hog. The point is right now there are in place the Agriculture Commission and the strong leadership of Dan Wyant at the Michigan Department of Agriculture under our Governor.

If you are a bad actor, there’s no shield; there’s no protection. You will be shut out of business. And farmers across the state support that because the stewardship of their land, their water, our air, everyone’s land, water, and air impacts their families and how they pay their bills but most of all, being stewards of the land and our natural resources. So right now we have in place stringent operations and practices that are in place no matter whether you are big or small. That should be our focus. That’s why I rise in opposition to the Byrum amendment and support the bill of Senator Gougeon and Senator McManus.

Senator Goschka’s statement is as follows:
I rise to support this amendment, and I very much appreciate the work that Senator Gougeon has put into it. I have some issues in my own local district where a number of local residents have lost their water presumably because of how much water is being used by a local farmer. If this amendment does not go through, they have no recourse at all to appeal, to have some type of situation where they can indeed have some form of resolve for regulation to get the whatsoever to appeal. We have to fight for our constituents. This is a great amendment, and I’m in support of it.

Senator McManus’ first statement is as follows:
I rise to oppose the Byrum amendment. I want to say that the Senator has been very active in working with us on the task force and is interested, definitely, in protecting agriculture in this state. I have no doubt about that.

First, let me talk about the size of the units. When we talk about 1,000 units, under federal definition that is 1,000 beef steers. It is 700 dairy cows, 2,500 feeder pigs, 55 pounders, 500 horses, or 100,000 chickens. That gives you some of the range of what that number means. It is a federal number.

The second thing we ought to make clear is that there is no absolute protection for farmers under the right-to-farm guidelines. The difference between our right-to-farm guidelines in Michigan, for instance, and the state of Iowa is the state of Iowa tried to give farmers absolute protection. Michigan, wisely, did not do that. Iowa has had a problem with their regulation in court. We have not. So there is no absolute protection. There is a defense for farmers under the-right to-farm guidelines when you go to court—if you get hauled in—as to whether or not you followed them or not.

Third, in terms of the term “factory farm,” I am not exactly sure what that is. I went on a dairy tour in Clinton County, a family farm operation, a week ago. Two thousand cows. That’s family. Not this magic number that the Senator talks about, 750. We are already at 2,000 cows in family operations. The thing we have to realize is that agriculture changes as we go down through history, and in order to have an efficient dairy operation today, we have to have the numbers to put it together. So 750 is an extremely low number in terms of where we are at already on some of our farms in Michigan.

The next thing you need to know is that the EPA is going to come up with a set of rules, nationally, for 50 states, on 1,000 animal units or larger. So there is going to be a set of rules under the EPA federally. When that happens, and it is not too far down the pike, Michigan will adopt a set of rules to fit the EPA that will be statewide.

What the Senator is proposing is that for 1,000 animal units and above, any township could develop their own set of guidelines for those units. That means we will have 1,400 different possibilities in the state of Michigan for 1,000 units and over. I am saying that we should not vote for this amendment. We should not support this amendment. We will be developing, when the EPA comes with this rule, a separate set of GAAMPS for 1,000 and over. We do not want to put it in Senate Bill No. 205. So, respectfully, I would ask that we turn the amendment down.

Senator McManus’ second statement is as follows:
I rise to support the Gougeon amendment. As has been mentioned, this pairs pretty much the wording in the pesticide preemption act and has been agreed to by various organizations in the state and local governmental units before. So this should satisfy that.

In terms of timing, I would just say that I think you realize, if you have been reading the papers and listening to the conversations, that agriculture is in a crisis in this state and in a crisis nationally. We had a task force appointed by our leader last February. We held eight hearings around the state. We listened to 265 people testify about this situation, and now that the report is published, you have all had a chance to read it. There are several pieces of legislation that we need to get passed. So I would urge that we continue to move forward and support the Gougeon amendment.

Senator McManus’ third statement is as follows:
I rise in support of the passage of this bill. This is a very important issue to Michigan agriculture at this particular time. As I indicated before, agriculture is in a crisis. We’ve gone out and studied the problem with hearings throughout the state of Michigan and come up with several recommendations which we wish to get turned into law. This is the first one that we’re working on in the total package.

Many of the reasons for the bill have been mentioned this morning, and I won’t go into detail. But there’s been a lot of discussion here about livestock operations, and I know that’s the focus in the southern part of the state. But there are other reasons for this bill, and I want to just put this out and get my remarks eventually into the Journal.

Up in Peninsula Township in Grand Traverse County, we have a poster child for farmland preservation in this state.  That township has been working on the project for many, many years. It’s spent about $6 million preserving 1,700 acres or so of land up there. Talking about preservation, they have a local millage, etc., yet they have a problem trying to keep the farmers in business. So recently they formed an organization called the Growers and Merchants League. It’s an agribusiness alliance, and they have faxed me a letter this morning, which is on your desks, supporting Senate Bill No. 205. I’d like to indicate why because I think it’s important to all of us. 

“Far too long residential policies have governed agribusiness development. Value added and retail operations involving agricultural enterprises have been subject to special use permits which virtually dictate a static business plan.” This is not livestock. This is cherry orchards and wineries.

“More than markets, more than weather, and more than insects, business decisions being dictated by public hearings of a residential nature will stifle investment and agricultural production and innovation.” Here is a township that’s trying to preserve their farmland.

“A well-designed state plan—not individual township mood swings—is what agriculture needs.”  That’s signed by Bernie Kroupa, the chairman of the Farmers and Merchants League of Old Mission Peninsula, the poster child for farmland preservation.

This gets at the heart of the issue. If we’re going to preserve farmland in this state, which we definitely want to do, we have to provide a system by which farmers can farm. And it goes beyond just the livestock operations. I would urge support of the bill.

Senator Cherry’s first statement, in which Senator Byrum concurred, is as follows:
I rise in support of the Byrum amendment because, ultimately, I think it strikes a better balance than the bill as it is before us.

What I have heard is a number of reasons being put forward to oppose it, things like we needn’t do this because the EPA is coming to the rescue. I am struck because that’s about the first time I’ve heard the EPA characterized in that fashion. Normally, what I read and see and hear here in this city is how often we’re in angst because the EPA has taken a step, and we believe it’s been arbitrary—that they ought not be interfering in state matters and that we all would be better off if they just stayed in D.C. and left us alone. But now we know that they’re coming to the rescue, I guess.

Secondly, what I’m hearing as well in opposition to this amendment is that what we need is uniformity and that if this bill doesn’t pass in its present form, we will have a variety of standards across the state promulgated by local units of government, and if we support the Byrum amendment, we will, in fact, encourage that. But look at the uniformity that the bill puts forward. It’s a uniformity of silence—that, in fact, is what we’re saying is we’re going to make this uniform because we’re just going to abdicate any sort of land-use regulation of farming—not just of family farming but of farming.

What I’m also hearing is that it is extremely difficult to put in place standards as the Byrum amendment does.  Ultimately, Mr. President, I think that’s why we have relied on locals to engage in zoning activity here because it’s true—circumstances vary from farm to farm, from community to community, from situation to situation. It’s important, I think, to preserve some flexibility for locals to act. I think the Byrum amendment accomplishes that.

Most interestingly, I heard my good colleague from the 35th District talk about treating agriculture as a business, which it is. I’m somewhat receptive to that argument, but I also note that if we treat agriculture as a business, we look at what occurs in other types of businesses: commercial ventures, manufacturing ventures, service ventures. All of them deal with local zoning concerns. To treat agriculture as a business would not mean we would be here today abdicating the field on zoning on the questions that this bill is putting forward.

Ultimately, I think what I’ve noted over the course of the summer is, while we’ve talked about preempting the field here with this bill on one hand, in the area of urban sprawl, we’ve talked about the necessity to enhance zoning and enhance restriction to make sure that we don’t lose open space. That’s a very difficult thing to balance when you’re talking about contradictory strategies. What strikes me about the Byrum amendment is it does make it easier for a family farm to operate and exist, but it does preserve our option of dealing with the urban sprawl questions. On that basis, I find the Byrum amendment particularly attractive.

Ultimately, Mr. President, I think we have to go to the reason why we zone in the first place—because it gives not only a local government the right to make a decision or establish a regulation. It gives the public the right to express their concerns. That is really what is at the source of local zoning. It is the public’s, the people who reside in that community, opportunity to express their concerns about operations in their community.

I concur that we need to take steps to preserve the family farm. In that instance, it may require us to give them certain protections, but to open up wholesale local communities to invasion by major operations that will clearly inconvenience and disrupt certain communities, I think is inappropriate. We should be allowing those communities to have some say about their future. Ultimately, that is what democracy is all about—making sure that the public has a say. What this bill does is it removes the public from the table. It simply puts them outside the calculation. We are going to allow someone to operate in the face of public concerns and not allow those concerns to be addressed through the traditional way we address them, and that is through public expression through their zoning ordinances.

On that basis, Mr. President, I support the Byrum amendment because I think it strikes the right balance of providing the appropriate protections for the family farm yet preserves the democracy in our local communities by allowing the citizens to express concerns about the quality of life in their community, how businesses operate, and how the community plans for its future. I would urge adoption of the Byrum amendment.

Senator Cherry’s second statement is as follows:
I did note in the language of the amendment that the good Senator from the 34th District is putting forth on the public health question.

Ultimately, what the bill is doing is it is going to reduce the question of public health down to an economic benefit and use that as the rule and the yardstick by which these determinations are going to be made. So what the amendment does is it amends a bill that strikes democracy from the local community’s ability to protect itself and inserts in its place a rule that says the public health is going to be determined by economic benefit.

Well, it seems to me, Mr. President, that’s a pretty harsh commentary about how we want to regulate issues in this state—that we’re going to reduce the public health down to a pure economic benefit.

It seems to me that’s not our role. In fact, we are insinuating ourselves in an area which traditionally has been regulated by local government, which approaches these public health questions with a little bit more humanity than simply a rule establishing economic benefit as a determiner of public health questions.

So I would urge defeat of the amendment.

Senator Gougeon’s statement is as follows:
I rise to urge passage of Senate Bill No. 205 as it is without further change.

The members of this body are well aware that Senator McManus and members of his commission have spent a good long time studying the concerns of agriculture in the state of Michigan, and that report concludes that we’re at a crossroads. We either decide as public policy that we’re going to continue agriculture in this state or we’re not. We can make that determination today and tomorrow and the next few weeks as the remainder of 12 recommendations of the McManus Agricultural Report come before this body. I don’t think we have to look within this report to see what’s happening in agriculture.

Every one of us has seen a farm lost and a new subdivision move in. Then we see the people in the subdivision who have moved in complain about the farm next door, so the farm next door is sold and that becomes yet another subdivision, and so forth, and so on, until we’ve lost farm after farm after farm. Now we know that. But what is presented here today is unbelievable.

The spin is that we’re going to have these big corporate farm boogie men coming after your children, coming after you. Big! Thirty-thousand farms in the state of Michigan and 100 of them are big. The Land Use Institute has another spin on it. They call them “industrial farms” as though industrial farms are going to be something horrible and terrible to be in your neighborhood—big corporate farms. They’re going to be horrible for your children and your family to live with. What a spin. The fact of the matter is that those who are knowledgeable on farming know that our biggest farms are some of our best farmers. They have the best procedures in place because they have the most invested. Large stakes are invested in succeeding at farming. So to suggest that these people somehow don’t care about the public health and don’t care about the people that live within their community is nonsense. It’s just spin to put a negative face on this bill, and it’s absolute nonsense.

This bill is indeed something that this body needs to pass if we are going to say at this crossroads that we want farming in Michigan. Without this bill and others, in the future for the state of Michigan you’ll be buying your food from some other state, perhaps some other country. Mexican strawberries–if you want to put fear in the people rather than big corporate farms, why isn’t somebody talking about Mexican strawberries? Why isn’t somebody talking about apple juice from China that has pesticides in it that our farmers can’t even use? Our farmers have to use safer pesticides. Our farmers have to farm with one arm behind their back while farmers in Mexico can use DDT, and in China they can use DDT or any dangerous pesticide you want to name, and then they can ship that product over here.

If we shut down farming in the state of Michigan, indeed in the United States, that’s the future. The future is going to be exactly what we saw in Mexican strawberries. Are we going to stand up for Michigan farming or aren’t we? That is a question, and that is a vote. A green vote today is a stand-up for Michigan farming. A red vote isn’t.

Senator Jaye’s statement is as follows:
I strongly support private property rights. Certainly one of the most fundamental elements of private property rights is the right to farm. This amendment would improve the farmers’ ability to farm without excessive harassment.

What this right-to-farm legislation does is it gives an affirmative defense to a farmer in court cases when somebody is suing the farmer over a variety of activities, be they pollution activities, the way they’re raising their crops or other agriculture activities. However, the problem is that it says that the affirmative defense is predicated on the farmer following standard agriculture processes, defined by the Agriculture Commission. The Agriculture Commission is appointed by the Governor. At some point in the future, there will be an anti-farmer Governor who could then use his commission to put unreasonable rules on the farmers.

What my amendment does is it codifies in law today the standard agriculture practices that are in place. If this amendment is adopted, it says that the rules and the methods and the procedures will become state law because right now they’re just state rules that can be changed by an unelected commission.

There have been several movements, for instance, for governmental entities to prohibit bio-engineered crops and bioengineered cows or other animals. There have been movements by governments to limit the number of animals or the setbacks, or to say that the farmer shouldn’t grow veal; because it’s an inhumane process to force feed and confine the animals.

There are anti-fur movements; there are anti-slaughter movements. There are anti-meat vegetarian movements where they say that no farmer should be allowed to raise animals if it takes more than three pounds of grain to produce one pound of flesh. There are those from the environmental angle who say that these farmers are causing water pollution.  In fact, we had to pass a law which specifically allowed farmers to put crushed grapes back on the ground because some environmental whackos said that crushed grapeskins were polluting the aquifers. There are people who are saying that farmers are causing air pollution because of the dust that the farming activities raise or because of the odor that the farm animals in the farming process might have.

So what this bill does is that it takes a long-range perspective, a long-range goal. It says let us truly put in a right to- farm act by codifying the existing standard agriculture practices and raising the bar, so that some time in the future if the Agriculture Commission wants to have more restrictive rules, or roll back the rules, or extend the rules, they would have to come to this Legislature and make the case, as opposed to the House and the Senate trying to pass a bill and get it over a Governor’s veto who is anti-farmer, anti-animals, and anti-fur, who is an environmental extremist.

This a way where we truly can give to the farmers a peace of mind and a codification of rules in the same way that we have codified as a Legislature the gaming laws. I would hope that you would support this amendment that would codify the standard agriculture practices as of the effective date of this amendatory act.

Senators Schuette, Hoffman, Steil, North, Hammerstrom, Shugars, Sikkema, Jaye, McCotter, Stille, Goschka, Gast, Bennett, Dunaskiss, Johnson, and Schwarz moved that they be named co-sponsors of the following bill:  Senate Bill No. 205

The motion prevailed."

Again, the long indented section above is quoted directly from the Journal of the Senate from October 7, 1999, with bold added by me.


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