Letter to the editor: Big ag dominates our state with help from politicians


To the editor:

“I’d be a complete idiot if I told you that there’s not going to be any odor associated with the congregation of pigs,” said Ron Prestage in the Des Moines Register article about his company’s new packing plant slated for Mason City.

Hogs aren’t the only smell coming from this deal. Like Cargill, JBS, Tyson, Iowa Select and Smithfield, Prestage has been behind the spread livestock confinements (CAFOs) throughout our state for years.

Iowa’s leaders, after all, have enthusiastically made our state a beacon for vertically integrated, industrial livestock production by refusing to adopt any meaningful regulation or oversight of CAFOs, by striking down the ban on packer ownership of livestock and by denying communities the right to say “No” to these industrial facilities masquerading as benign agriculture.

Our elected officials, from mayor to the governor, are eagerly collaborating to extend nearly $30 million in tax rebates and other incentives to the nation’s fifth-largest hog producer in order to put a plant in the top hog producing state, where it can draw from its own inventory.

Prestage will provide half the animals processed at the plant. The rest will come from “independent” producers, a code word for contacts. There is nothing independent about owning a CAFO but not the animals within it, about being a price taker not a price maker.

Oddly, Mr. Prestage reminds us that consolidation within the meat industry has greatly reduced returns to producers and says his packing plant in Mason City will “fix that.” He is proposing to combat the ills of vertical integration by engaging in vertical integration.

What nonsense!

Presage is not challenging the economic model that has destroyed human-scale, independent livestock production. It is employing that very model to better position itself within the industry, an industry that is ramping up capacity to meet the growing demand for animal protein in China.

Local leaders say the plant will have an annual economic impact of $750 million. This number is neither explained nor substantiated but offered both to pacify the public and draw attention away from what we can actually expect: a building boom in CAFOs across the state that will negatively impact rural residents’ quality of life, health and property values; more manure spills and fish kills; an influx of low-resourced, underpaid immigrant laborers with the attendant strains on public goods and services.

This Mason City slaughterhouse has nothing to do with the comeback of the independent hog producer or regional economic vibrancy. It has everything to do with industrial ag’s ongoing project of domination of our state as abetted by our politicians.

No, you’re no idiot, Mr. Prestage. Industrial profiteers like yourself have managed to fool Iowans into sacrificing their state to confinement agriculture, even though it stinks for our communities, our rural economies, our workers, our independent livestock production, our health and our environment.

Stacy Hartmann
Dallas County Farmers and Neighbors


  1. I don’t know whether I’ll ever be able to switch to a Vegan diet, but certain friends have been steering me in that direction for years now. I love my bacon, burgers and pork chops, but the statistics just do not lie. One of the largest contributing factors to Global Warming is greenhouse gasses released via livestock production. I will probably never totally swear off meat, but I am doing my best to find alternative sources for protein.

    • 95 percent of methane is produced in the rain forests of the world by bacteria in termite gut digesting cellulose. Article written about 30 years ago.

  2. More info from Worldwatch Institute:
    “A widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow,’ estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs and poultry. But recent analysis by Goodland and Anhang finds that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.”

  3. Currently there are 9,000 CAFOs in Iowa and more are coming. Dallas County has 28. These 28 CAFOs produce 29 million gallons of liquid hog manure annually — that is about 3,000 gasoline transport trucks full of the stuff.
    Also the CAFOs produce 25,333 tons of solid animal waste, full of nitrates, phosphorus, bacteria and other chemicals. All of this manure is applied to the soil as fertilizer twice a year. A percentage of this crap runs off into Iowa’s waterways and lakes, adding to the water pollution issue.

    • That’s too much poop. CAFOs are literally hog cities and need to have their own waste removal plants just like humans do. No town in Iowa is allowed to take the same amount of human waste out and spread it on farm fields. Pig feces? Human feces? What’s the difference? Poop is poop.

  4. Once again, thank you, Stacy and the Dallas County Farmers and Neighbors, for clearing up the crap being spewed out by these land- and water-killing corporations.

  5. Absolutely no discussion of water quality by any of the players involved. As if we had no problem with record high bacterial levels this past December.

  6. There are alternatives to eating meat produced in CAFOs. Jefferson County Farmers and Neighbors Inc. created a directory of where to find locally produced, grass-fed meat, dairy and egg products. Consumers can — and do — play a huge role in shaping the food system. If we as consumers work together to reduce meat sales from CAFO corporations and instead support traditional, independent farms, over time we can make changes. Here’s a link for the booklet: http://www.jfaniowa.org/jfan_action_checklist.aspx

  7. One other point: Right now 26 percent of Iowa pork products are exported. Pork sales in the US have been level for years. So this means all this additional pork raised in this growing number of CAFOs is being exported — and primarily going to China and other Southeast Asian countries. This is why the Trans Pacific Partnership, the trade deal involving 12 Pacific rim countries (minus China) — 40 percent of the world’s GDP — is so awful. It will open the door to make it financially easier to export pork, among a host of other bad agreements. The pork industry predicts that pork exports will increase by 50 percent over a 10-year period. That means a heck of a lot more CAFOs. The TPP has to be stopped. Learn more about it here: http://www.citizen.org/TPP

  8. Prestage Farms claimed they would pay for the complete road, which was dirt, gravel and reworking of the road. When the time came, they only paid a “percentage” of that road. They do NOT keep their word. Period. They will say anything to get what they want, and we will get stuck with the stench, expenses and all other problems associated with their operation.

  9. When will the last CAFO be built? Who will say enough is enough? When will all the suffering matter? Iowa is already the most terra-transformed state in the nation. How can we hope to enjoy the beauty of Iowa in the future when we have become one big pig sewer pit, draining away life in the name of corporate profits and “feeding the world,” killing rivers and lakes and the gulf and all the earthly beings that depend on fresh, clean water? Pig manure pits are evolutionary cesspools breeding the next epidemic of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Wake up, Iowa, before fresh air and water is a lost memory.

    • We are not feeding the world. We are killing the planet. Fresh air and water is nearly a lost memory. We can no longer drink water from the spring near the house. Nitrates and hog shit are in it. So it’s a contaminated water source.
      I’ll say it: “Enough is enough!” Hog CAFOS and beef CAFOS need to go away. The consumption of water is now being diverted to the feeder animals instead of the humans around their CAFOs. There’s something very wrong with this picture. Consider Islam: you don’t eat pork, and your skin clears up. You lose fat weight because you don’t consume pork and its antibiotics-filled fats, and . . . you feel much better! Trust me, you can live without it.

  10. Big Ag dominates Iowa with help from the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, the USDA, the farm bill, the U.S. Congress, and last but not least the citizens of the United States of Agriculture (USA). Oh, I know that I sound like a broken record, but I will state for the record that the farm bill will be renewed in 2018. Farm bill subsidies will continue to supply plenty of pork for the confounded CAFOs. Compliant citizens are led to the slaughterhouse every five years at farm bill renewal time.


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