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Great Lakes Article:

Factory Farms
Plan to contain waste is full of unhealthy holes
Detroit Free Press

Under pressure from the federal government, the state has finally developed a regulation plan for large animal operations, the factory farms that hold hundreds or thousands of pigs, chickens and cows in close quarters.

The plan has about as much chance of stopping the animals' feces from getting into rivers and lakes as the piece of newspaper you're holding. Basically, the farms get a permit by asking for one. They have until September 2005 to do that, and more time to write their plan for actually managing the animal waste. No sampling is required to monitor nearby drains or streams to ensure the plan is working. In other words, it's the sickening status quo, dressed up in paperwork.

A big factory farm puts out as much urine and feces every day as a small town. The mess is hosed out of barns into a lagoon, and the liquefied result is sprayed on fields. Improperly built lagoons can leak underground. Fields can get doused with more liquid manure than they can handle -- and the manure either gets swept off with the next rain or works its way quickly through the soil to underground drains and out into the nearest stream.

With the waste products comes the constant threat of E. coli contamination. Plus factory farms often use antibiotics to quell infection among closely quartered animals, as well as hormones to speed growth. Much of that gets excreted, and microscopic bits go wherever the liquid manure does; if not contained, they'll eventually reach the Great Lakes.

The state Department of Environmental Quality will hold hearings today on the permit plan, take comments through Dec. 2, and put the system into effect Jan. 1. That's pretty fast action on a plan the DEQ has supposedly been working on all year.

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