Two retired University of Iowa professors claim Iowa’s regulatory system is failing to protect the environment and public health, and have called for a moratorium on new hog barns in the state. They are joined in the effort by 55 activist groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture and other local, state and national advocacy groups.
“For several decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state governments have failed to regulate the environmental impacts of factory farms,” said a letter from the groups addressed to members of the Iowa General Assembly. “A moratorium will give legislators an overdue opportunity to evaluate the public health, economic and societal impacts of factory farms while providing Iowa’s communities with important statutory protections from further expansion of this industry.”
“A tipping point has been reached. Rural Iowans have every reason to be concerned,” said James Merchant and David Osterberg in their recently release report. According to an AP article, Osterberg is co-founder of the Iowa Policy Project, “a liberal-leaning Iowa City-based nonprofit group that offers research on environmental, economic, energy and tax policies, which released the report.”
The annual growth of Iowa’s pork production has been approximately 500 new or expanded barns a year for the last decade in Iowa, states the AP article. Pigs are generally grown where corn and soybeans are produced, which is why many pigs are trucked to Iowa for feeding. Additionally, access to available markets is a plus, including the new Prestage processing plant being built near Eagle Grove, Iowa.
Projects in Place to Improve Water Qualtiy
Neither Merchant, nor Osterberg, nor the activist groups mentioned the projects initiated in the last 10 years to improve water quality throughout the state, including the recent passage of Senate File 512.
“Passage of Senate File 512 is an important step forward and continues the strong momentum of the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy,” says Gregg Hora, president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA). “This legislation emphasizes collaborative opportunities and efforts among urban and rural partners while enhancing successful programs already well embraced by Iowa farmers. Iowa pig farmers and the Iowa Pork Producers Association remain committed to research and continuous improvement programs to drive water quality solutions.”
“We understand there are concerns out there and we believe those concerns are being addressed by the current system understanding that others don’t,” said Eldon McAfee, an agriculture law attorney who represents the Iowa Pork Producers Association, in the AP article. He added, “A moratorium would be devastating to the Iowa economy and livestock producers.”
In the release, McAfee says producers “believe the current permit system in effect for 16 years has worked and farmers have complied with its requirements and continue to be held responsible when there are accidental spills of manure into creeks or streams.”
The health claims of “respiratory problems headaches, diarrhea, burning eyes,” etc., made by people who live near large farm operations, is based on research performed more than 11 years ago. Farmers have made many improvements since that time in controlling odor with windbreaks, ventilation, and nutrient resource management that has minimized many of these alleged claims. They also have improved building designs and overall management.
McAfee told AP he knows of “no court case where it has been proven that a hog farm has been proven responsible for causing an individual’s illness.”
Iowa is the nation’s leading pork producer, with nearly 23 million pigs as of the USDA December inventory report. The next closest state is North Carolina with 9.3 million hogs. IPPA reports that pig farming represents $7.5 billion in total economic activity for Iowa, and total cash receipts for hog production in Iowa topped $7.5 billion in 2013.
Also of note: Although activist groups often refer to “factory farms,” 94% of Iowa’s hog farms are family owned enterprises, says IPPA, and a total of 40,290 Iowans are employed in day-to-day production of hogs.