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CAFO pollution in Lenawee County, Michigan, USA

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) polluted rural Michigan since the 1990s helped by weak regulation and government subsidies. Lynn Henning (Goldman Prize) exposed their socio-environmental injustices through successful activism.


Over the past several decades, meat consumption in the US has been on the rise. American annual per capita consumption of meat rose from 144 pounds in 1950 to 222 pounds in 2007. Consumption of beef rose from 44 pounds in 1950, to 66 pounds in 2007. Livestcok production has also changed from hundreds of thousands of independent farmers with reasonably sized operations to a few thousand mega-farms. Factory farming is facilitated by three policy changes pushed by the largest agribusinesses: A series of farm bills artificially lowering the cost of crops destined for livestock feed; the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ignoring factory farm pollution; and the Department of Justice (DOJ) allowing the largest meat-packers to merge into a virtual monopoly [6]. This has led to the rise of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, large-scale feedlots where thousands of dairy cattle, poultry and pigs are confined for their entire lives [1]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:CAFO pollution in Lenawee County, Michigan, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Michigan
Location of conflict:Lenawee County
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:Live Animals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The business model is to slaughter and sell as quickly as possible. CAFOs are officially defined as "small, medium or large" by the number of "animal units" they contain. For example, a Large CAFO has 700 or more dairy cows, or 2,500 or more pigs weighing more than 55 pounds, or 30,000 or more laying hens if using a liquid manure handling system [6].

Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:01/01/1990
Relevant government actors:Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice, Department of Environmental Quality
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan
Socially Responsible Agricultural Project
Sierra Club
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Industrial workers
International ejos
Local ejos
Landless peasants
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Trade unions
Wastepickers, recyclers
Local scientists/professionals
Religious groups
Forms of mobilization:Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Shareholder/financial activism.
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
Refusal of compensation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Noise pollution, Soil erosion, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Global warming, Genetic contamination
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Infectious diseases, Accidents, Malnutrition, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Land dispossession, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Criminalization of activists
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
Court decision (undecided)
Strengthening of participation
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Violent targeting of activists
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Hennings and her supporters successfully managed to not only expose and create a widespread movement in reaction to CAFOs' injustices, which were relatively unknown beforehand, but also file countless citations, lawsuits, compliance orders, and fines, even shutting down one hog farm. Bans and stricter regulations are in the works.
Sources & Materials

[3] CS Monitor. One farmer acts to save environment from factory farms (Zipp 2010)
[click to view]

[4] Moral Heroes. Lynn Henning. (Kile 2011)
[click to view]

[5] HydrateLife. Lynn Henning (2012)
[click to view]

[6] The Ann Arbor News. Lynn Henning named winner of the Goldman Environmental Award (Bayer 2011)
[click to view]

[7] Sierra Club. Water Sentinel Lynn Henning Wins Planet Defender Award (Vattin 2012)
[click to view]

[8] Planet of the animals. In Praise of Lynn Henning: An Activist Who Has Made a Huge Difference (2010)
[click to view]

[9] The Environment Magazine. Don’t mess with grandma (Mueller 2010)
[click to view]

[10] Food & water watch. Michigan's Step to Crack Down on Winter Manure Spreading Falls Short of Full Ban (Rose 2019)
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

SRAP Donation page
[click to view]

Sierra Club CAFO Map
[click to view]

Other documents

Lynn Henning Photo: Goldman Prize
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Dalena Tran, ICTA, [email protected]
Last update28/03/2020
Conflict ID:4988
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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