Group takes aim at large livestock operations it says pollute Iowa's water
Citing what it says is mounting public support, a group of environmental, legislative and farm leaders called Tuesday for a moratorium on new confined animal feeding operations, saying the large-scale livestock-raising facilities pollute Iowa’s water and air and harm rural communities.
Rep. Art Staed of Cedar Rapids and Sen. Pam Jochum of Dubuque, both Democrats, introduced complementary bills that call for Iowa to halt construction of new CAFOs. It’s the fourth year groups have proposed a moratorium.
So far, efforts have been unsuccessful, given opposition from Republicans who control the Iowa House, Senate and governor’s office, the groups said.
“We know that with the Republican trifecta, it will be difficult for the legislation to move forward this session. But this bill is bigger than this session,” Staed said in a rally that followed a news conference on the moratorium effort, both of which were livestreamed.
The groups point to a 2019 John Hopkins University survey that found 63% of Iowans polled thought it was important for the state Legislature to ban construction of new and expanded CAFOs.
“Iowans have spent decades trying to get to this point, and they will continue to build momentum in the days, months and years ahead,” Staed said, adding that he expects opposition from large agriculture groups like the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. “They’ll fight tooth and nail to keep this legislation from being enacted.”
Drew Mogler, the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s public policy director, said Tuesday a moratorium would be devastating to Iowa’s rural economy.
“Agriculture is the lifeblood of Iowa’s economy, and livestock production is vitally important to the rural economy,” he said.
Mogler said Iowa’s pork industry supported 147,000 jobs and generated $6.8 billion in household income in 2019, money that goes to farmers, truckers, and meatpacking and processing workers. Pork, beef and other livestock producers also boost prices for farmers’ corn and soybeans used to feed animals.
A study for the association says the pork industry consumes about 22% of Iowa’s corn crop and 23% of its soybeans.
Aaron Lehman, president of Iowa Farmers Union, which joined in the call for a moratorium, said large CAFOs contribute to the growing consolidation of ownership within agriculture.
“Factory farms pose huge threats to family farmers,” Lehman, who farms near Alleman, said in a statement. “Many of these operations are tied to meatpackers who distort the marketplace for independent producers trying to make an honest living.”
Jess Mazour, the Sierra Club of Iowa’s conservation program coordinator, pointed to a 2012 study that said the Iowa counties selling the most hogs and had the largest farms had declining countywide incomes, slower growth in median household income and declining numbers of local businesses, as compared to statewide averages.
“We know factory farms pollute our water,” said Mazour, blaming the spreading of manure on cropland for the bacteria that’s the leading cause of Iowa river and stream impairments — and for the phosphorus and nitrogen that contributes to algae growth, the top reason for impairments of the state’s lakes, reservoirs and wetlands.
Mogler, however, said manure from livestock production only accounts for a third of the nitrogen and phosphorous needed to grow Iowa’s corn, soybeans and other crops. And he said farmers are responsible fertilizer users, saying many use the technique known as knifing that injects manure into the soil, rather than spreading in on top, to prevent its loss.
John Gilbert, an Iowa Farmers Union board member, said farmers don’t have to raise pigs in large confinements. He runs a dairy and pork operation, along with his brother and son in Hardin County, that includes pasture grazing for livestock.
“We use pasture farrowing, fresh-air housing and bedding, and allowed our pigs to behave naturally, which meant that we didn’t have to use antibiotics,” said Gilbert, who sells his pigs to Niman Ranch, a Colorado specialty pork, beef and lamb retailer.
“There are alternatives to industrial confinements,” he said. “And most are better for the farmer, the pig and for getting the value created into local economies.”
The House bill has 18 co-sponsors, and the Senate bill three co-sponsors.