Dec 8, 2014

Is Lake Superior to Become Another Lake Erie

Updated - A massive swine (pig) Concentrated Agricultural Feeding Operation (CAFO) proposed in Bayfield County threatens a region known for its pristine inland lakes and streams, Chequamegon National Forest, and the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Lake Superior.

America's Dairyland is currently imperiled by the proliferation of Concentration Agriculturally Feeding Operations (CAFOs) mostly by massive dairy operations.

Now, Big Ag is taking aim at the Northwood's region of Wisconsin, specifically Bayfield County, proposing a 560-acre swine CAFO in the Township of Eileen, next to Ashland County and some 15 miles from Lake Superior.

The University of Wisconsin Extension held a workshop last week to inform residents of the health and environmental risks of the proposed swine CAFO, as well as the weak state regulatory framework of CAFOs, although reportedly not described as being weak. (Mullen, Ashland Daily Press (Wisconsin))

Writes Joshua Yelle, (Western Illinois University) in an unpublished paper citing Dr. John Ikerd's The Inevitable Economic, Ecological, and Social Consequences of CAFOs:

The environmental damages that CAFOs have caused are nearly impossible to put into a numerical figure that the average individual would be able to grasp and comprehend. The primary detrimental effects that CAFOs produce consist of water pollution, air pollution, animal welfare concerns and the mismanagement of waste. EPA findings have suggested that waste generated by CAFOs have polluted over 35,000 miles of river and contaminated groundwater in 17 states (Ikerd). Pollution on a large scale such as this cannot be blamed on just individual CAFOs but is actually the result of irresponsible management across an entire industry which has a documented past of reckless pollution and disregard for environmental concerns in general.
Disregard for environmental concerns describes Wisconsin under the Scott Walker administration that has gutted the state's own Department of Natural Resources as a functioning regulatory body.

The question for residents and businesses up in northern Wisconsin is: Will this area relying on tourism and the pristine quality of the region as a value in itself allow the area and another Great Lake to be devastated like Lake Erie and Lake Michigan in Kewaunee and Door counties by not stopping this proposed CAFO owned by the Iowa-based Reicks View Family Farm LLC. (Family farm name is a sick irony.)

Just a small family farm Reicks would have you believe, a farmer that would make a walk up to Bayfield County every morning. Here is a link to their "values."

Many Big Ag owners try to escape even the weak regulatory apparatus by owning 999 animals, one less than the 1,000-animal necessary for an operation to be a state-sanctioned CAFO.

The future for America's Dairyland looks bleak as the Walker administration calls for more production and less regulation in its 30x20 initiative.

Said Gordon Stevenson, runoff chief for the DNR (2001-2011):

"Manure management is essentially the same as it has been since the Middle Ages; untreated manure is disposed on untreated on the landscape. We have already seen severe public health consequences from these practices and I am certain that we will see more. Much of Wisconsin’s environmental protection efforts with agriculture center on nutrient management planning. Many of my former colleagues have labored long and hard to persuade farmers to adopt the NRCS 590 Nutrient Management Standard. The problem is that 590 is not a water quality standards, it as an agronomic standard that seeks to optimize crop production. Plus evaluation of a farmer’s compliance with that standard is somewhere between difficult and impossible."

Consider the Parable of Smithfield Foods. In 1936, a family built a small hog slaughtering and packing plant in Smithfield, Virginia. Their products were very good, the plant grew and town of Smithfield came to be known as the Ham Capital of the World. During the 1980s, the company vertically integrated. In plain English, that means they not only owned the processing facilities, but they figured out that if they controlled the production of hogs as well as processing they could be more profitable. By the end of 1998, Smithfield owned not only multiple packaging plants but 460 large hog farms and had contracts with 2,100 other pork producers 12 states. Smithfield Foods had become the number one pork producer in the United States and was growing internationally.  They continued to grow, aggregating the assets of American pork production into larger and fewer blocks. Next time you go shopping, checkout the pork products. You will see labels like Morrell, Farmland, Armour and others. Smithfield owns all of those companies and multiple others. On September 26, 2013, Smithfield Foods and all of its holdings were sold to another company for $7.1 billion. [Bittman, NYT] The name of the company is Shuanghui International Holdings Limited.[Shuanghui changed its name this year to the: WH Group (BusinessWeek)]

"Yes, a company from the People’s Republic of China now owns 26 percent of all of the assets of the American pork industry. This is the largest single Chinese purchase to date of American assets. China has successfully established an offshore economic colony on American soil. Let’s leave Virginia and Beijing and return to Wisconsin. We have dairy CAFOs in Wisconsin that are in the process of aggregating the assets of Wisconsin’s dairy industry into larger and fewer blocks. Any of those blocks can be bought and sold. I don’t believe I need to spell out why I told you the Parable of Smithfield Foods."

Big Ag could not care less about the health of the Great Lakes. Big Ag owned by China even less so.


  1. 1. Acidic run-off from a giant open-pit iron mine and 2. Huge manure run-off from a CAFO. Both into the Lake Superior watershed. This isn't just a Wisconsin environmental crisis in the making, it's an international crisis. The good people of the Lake Superior coast should join with native Americans and other concerned citizens and fight back, hard, or see the loss of one of the world's largest and most pristine fresh-water lakes. Profiteering by the private sector, enabled by laissez faire Republicans in Madison, is inexcusable -- a crime against nature and good stewardship. Aldo Leopold and John Muir are rolling in their graves.

  2. Great article. The pendulum will not swing back until citizens make demands on their government. As the writer states, the CAFO operators are interested only in making money while they can. They buy influence on the federal and state level to weaken environmental controls. While our EPA reports increased pollution from these CAFOs, politicians are at work to weaken the EPA's power to oversee these polluters. How is that pork chop tasting?