To the editor:
There are many injustices in this world, too many for one person to focus on them all. So each of us must choose to fight those injustices that hit our homes and our hearts. Issues relating to food and farming, family and community and our environment, here in Iowa and in other areas of the world, seem to be at the top of my consciousness.
That is why, for nearly 20 years now, I have been concerned about the negative impacts of the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) model developed to raise livestock.
The risks are real and are serious. Over and over, research has shown the economic, social and environmental damage this agricultural system causes and the injustices it creates.
Frankly, I am shocked that here in Iowa we are still fighting these factory-style CAFOs one at a time. Think about how unjust it is that residents of a county in Iowa voice their concerns to their county’s elected supervisors, who can claim their hands are tied.
Tearful pleas, angry words and well-documented statements of the risks of these facilities are spoken in what amounts to futile efforts to stop the building of another CAFO. The only certain way to stop it is when the owner heeds the concerns of his neighbors and ends the project himself. That rarely happens.
A thoughtful person must wonder why our political leaders, the Iowa Farm Bureau, the commodity groups and other supporters of this industry continue to promote CAFOs. They want us to believe that Iowans should be proud of being the number one state in hog production because we are “feeding the world.”
This is misplaced pride.
Iowa has so many hogs because our land is well suited to raising corn but also because of our rural areas’ lack of jobs and increasingly low population densities. The willingness of our state and local leaders to set no limit to the number of hogs is also a factor.
As for feeding the world, Iowa farmers do a fine job of growing corn and soybeans, but most of those crops are made into animal feed and ethanol. The millions of humans living in poverty are not the people who will be eating our pork. As the United Nations and many non-government organizations have stated, it is small-scale farmers growing nutritious, traditional foods for their communities who have the real potential to feed the expanding world population, not resource-dependent and financially burdensome industrial agriculture.
Jobs and livestock sales are the supposed benefits that CAFOs bring to a county. However, farmers and their families have been the backbone of rural economic activity for generations, sustaining a much larger variety of jobs and businesses in our rural counties. In contrast, the CAFO system thrives only when labor costs are low and when grain prices are kept to a minimum and bought wherever it is cheapest, even if that means transporting it from another country.
Additionally, confinement hogs and poultry are almost always owned by the companies that supply them, not the local farmer or owner of the facility. Livestock receipts and profits leave the county while the damage stays behind.
The evidence of injustice to our farmers and to our communities is clear. Look around and you’ll see schools closed, businesses gone and homesteads torn down. Does anyone believe that more CAFOs in our county will reverse those trends or make this a better to place to live, go to school, start a business or even to farm?
Instead, why don’t we work for what we can really be proud? We could strive for an Iowa with agricultural diversity, resilient farming practices, young and beginning farmer opportunities and revitalized rural businesses and communities.
Iowa’s county supervisors are stuck between Iowa’s ineffectual regulations and the county residents who elected them. They try to make it fair, but that’s a nearly impossible task.
When the Greene County Supervisors score a Master Matrix, they often request trees be planted around the facility so it will be “out of sight, out of mind.” What is so horrendous that residents and visitors alike should not know what is there?
A CAFO, of course.
The damage to our environment and to our communities goes beyond those trees, far beyond the facility housing thousands of animals. A simple online search reveals professional, peer-reviewed studies that show CAFOs are detrimental to public health, quality of life, property values, rural economies and to water and air quality.
It doesn’t take a research study to know that many children have a strong affinity towards farm animals. I am especially concerned about what this CAFO model is teaching our children, and our own county supervisors are reinforcing: that the millions and millions of pigs and chickens in our state are not to be seen and certainly not to be touched.
The only time most of our children see a pig is when its bloated and stiff body is sticking out of a dumpster or when a snout or an eye can be glimpsed from inside the transportation trucks met on the highway. The sense of empathy and connection children have for these animals is being destroyed. How sad and how unjust is that?
Thus, I ask members of our community, of Greene County and of Iowa to ask for a statewide moratorium on CAFOs. Our state-level elected officials and those campaigning for office must hear from us before we can expect them to act.
Until a moratorium can be enacted, we should ask our supervisors to represent all of Greene County and vote to deny every new or expanding CAFO permit. Each CAFO should be treated equally since even the best-managed, award-winning, family-owned CAFO could be sold, if the farmer chooses, to an outside company with no local connection. The CAFOs and the injustices they create need to be halted now.