Factory Farms in Michigan
Fact Sheet • February 2011


ver the last two decades, small- and medium-scale livestock farms have given way to factory farms that confine thousands of cows, hogs and chickens in tightly packed facilities. In Michigan, there were 871,000 hogs, 75,000 beef cattle, 149,000 dairy cows and 8.9 million chickens on the largest operations in 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture.

The silos and gentle meadows pictured on the labels of the food most Americans buy have little relation to how that food is actually produced. The significant growth in industrial-scale, factory-farmed livestock has contributed to a host of environmental, public health, economic and food safety problems. Tens of thousands of animals can generate millions of tons of manure annually, which pollutes water and air and can have health repercussions on nearby communities. Consumers in distant markets also feel the impacts, either through foodborne illness outbreaks or other public health risks, or through the loss of regional food systems. As consumers saw during the 2010 egg recall, food safety problems on even a few factory farms can end up in everyone’s refrigerators. Even the producers are not benefitting from this system of production because they are not getting paid much for the livestock they raise. The rise of factory farming was no accident. It resulted from policy choices driven by big agribusinesses, especially meatpackers and processors that dominate the links in the food chain between livestock producers and consumers. Total Factory Farm Animals in Michigan

Concentration of factory farms in Michigan, taken from factoryfarmmap. org. Dark red indicates the most severe density.

In recent years, small- and mid-sized dairy farms disappeared and were replaced by factory-farmed dairies that now dominate milk production. Between 1997 and 2007, the United States lost 52,000 dairy farms — about 5,000 farms every year.1 Food & Water Watch found that although Michigan added 114,000 dairy cows to the largest operations over the decade (an increase of more than 300 percent), the growth of factory farms in Michigan was overwhelmed by the size and growth of factory-farmed dairies in western states. In

Source: USDA.

2007, there were more than 2.7 million cows on factoryfarmed dairies in California, Idaho, Texas and New Mexico. The emergence of western factory-farmed dairies has contributed to the decline of local dairy farms in the Southeast, Northeast, Upper Midwest and parts of the Midwest.2 The average number of cows on Michigan factory farms grew from 900 cows per operation in 1997 to nearly 1,300 cows in 2007, which is still lower than the national average of 1,480. Small dairies generate less manure than factory farms and can either apply it to cropland or incorporate it into pasture as fertilizer at rates that the land can absorb. Big dairies generate far more manure than they can use as fertilizer, so it gets stored in lagoons or over-applied to cropland where it can run off into nearby waterways. In 2009, as many as 200,000 fish were killed in a 12-mile length of the Black River in Sanilac County, Michigan, after dairy manure was improperly spread on fields.

The Average Size of a Factory-Farm Egg-Laying Operation

614,000 875,000
0 200000 400000 600000 800000 1000000

Source: USDA.



A major player in Michigan is Vreba-Hoff, a company with Dutch ties that sets up factory dairy farms for European farmers. In 2007, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality sued a 6,600-head Ingham County Vreba-Hoff dairy for failing to comply with water quality laws and violating a 2005 consent judgment. In 2009, the agency sued the Vreba-Hoff Dairy again for hundreds of alleged permit violations for failing to adequately treat manure, and ordered the dairy to pay $223,500 in fines for manure mismanagement incidents and spills dating back to 2007. The 2007 court agreement required the dairy to pay penalties and install manure treatment systems before it added any more dairy cows to its facilities, but two years later the Congress, regulatory agencies and state goverments need to company had not paid the fine. put a stop to the policies that have allowed these facilities to proliferate. They must create and enforce farm and food Eggs policies that allow farmers to make a living and do not harm communities, the environment or public health. Almost all eggs are produced on large-scale operations with hundreds of thousands of layer hens in each facility. Take action: Go to to learn more A handful of egg companies produce a large proportion of about factory farms in Michigan and to take action to stop the eggs most Americans eat. In 2009, the four largest firms the spread of factory farms. owned 30.2 percent of the laying hens in production.3 The number of egg-laying hens on factory farms in Michigan doubled from nearly 4.4 million in 1997 to over 8.7 million Endnotes 1 USDA NASS. Agricultural Statistics Database. Accessed August 5, in 2007. The average size of Michigan factory-farmed egg 2008. Available at; MacDonfacilities nearly tripled, from 335,600 in 1997 to 875,000 ald, James M. and William D. McBride. USDA ERS. “The Transforin 2007. mation of U.S. Livestock Agriculture: Scale, Efficiency, and Risks.” Large layer facilities generate tremendous volumes of manure and manure-tainted litter. The more than 3.5 million egg-laying hens on factory farms in Allegan County, Michigan, produce as much untreated manure as the sewage from the Austin, Texas, metro area. Factory farms cause extensive environmental damage and leave communities with fewer independent family farms, unsafe water, reduced air quality and depressed economies. Instead of benefitting, consumers face foodborne illness outbreaks and public health threats like antibioticresistant bacteria.
2 3 EIB-43. January 2009; Miller, James J. and Don P. Blayney. USDA, ERS. “Dairy Backgrounder.” (LDP-M-145-01). July 2006 at 7. USDA NASS. Agricultural Statistics Database. Dr. Shane, Simon. “2008 Egg Industry Survey.” Watt Egg Industry. Vol. 114, No. 3. March 2009.

For more information: web: email: phone: (202) 683-2500 (DC) • (415) 293-9900 (CA) Copyright © February 2011 Food & Water Watch

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