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European visitors share factory-farm concerns

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Lidia Senra of Spain, left, and Jean Cabaret of France listen as Lis Maguire of Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based activist group, interprets for Lynn Henning, a Michigan farmer.

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HUDSON, Mich. - Three European farmers who visited southeast Michigan yesterday echoed fears that some residents have about the consolidation of America's farming industry.

Jean Cabaret, who belongs to a farmers' union in France called Conferation Paysanne, said it was "shocking" to see so much livestock in one place. Large volumes of manure they generate pose serious threats to the environment if not properly managed, he said.

"We have a lot of common problems in which we need to unite," said Lidia Senra, secretary-general of a farmers' group in Spain called Sindicato Labrego Galego.

Sonja Korspeter, a policy staffer for a farmers' union in Germany called ABL for short, said consumers "need to understand what the consequences of cheap food are."

The trio, which last night was scheduled to speak with area farmers at the Hudson Community Center, toured the perimeter of the Vreba-Hoff I and II LLC dairy facilities. Some 6,000 cows are divided between those two sites. Both are south of Hudson, near U.S. 127. Vreba-Hoff's affiliated company in nearby Wauseon, Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development LLC, has provided consulting services to farmers from the Netherlands at various stages of establishing megadairy operations in Michigan, Ohio, and Indiana.

The European trio was hosted by Lynn and Dean Henning, a Lenawee County farming couple who have been seeking tighter enforcement by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality as members of a group called Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan.

Food & Water Watch, a Washington-based activist group that supports traditional agricultural practices, arranged the visit. Patty Lovera, assistant director, said the trio first toured the perimeter of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, in Washington state and Oregon.

Cecelia Conway, Vreba-Hoff spokesman and partner, said the company would have allowed an on-site tour if it had known about the visit.

She said people should not fear CAFOs. "Good management of a facility is not dependent on size," Ms. Conway said. "It all comes down to good management practices."

As a result of a consent agreement to resolve outstanding Michigan DEQ violations, Vreba-Hoff installed a manure-treatment system earlier this year at a cost of $1 million. It is one of only four in the nation.

Rachel Matthews, of the Michigan DEQ's water bureau, told The Blade last night that Vreba-Hoff will be cited soon for "paperwork compliance issues," but declined to elaborate. It was cited for a discharge violation in the spring, she said.

A field test performed by Ms. Henning for the trio yesterday showed only 1.2 micrograms per liter of dissolved oxygen in a ditch that flows off the Vreba-Hoff II site. Anything less than 5 micrograms per liter is a sign of depleted oxygen, something that can indicate an excessive nutrient load, Ms. Matthews has said.

Ms. Matthews said last night there are a variety of causes for depleted oxygen. But she said she was on the Vreba-Hoff II site yesterday afternoon and did not see evidence of a discharge.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.

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