FILE – Hogs feed in a pen in a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, on the Gary Sovereign farm, in Lawler, Iowa on Oct. 31, 2018. The Iowa Supreme Court on Thursday, June 30, 2022, reversed a longstanding precedent that allowed landowners to sue for damages when a neighboring hog farm causes water pollution or odor problems that affect quality of life. The court concluded, 4-3, that a 2004 decision was wrong.. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall File)
The four pillars of Iowa’s industrial model of agriculture are corn, beans, hog/dairy/chicken/turkey confinements (CAFOs), and cattle feedlots. Because of the way industrial agriculture works, all these pillars necessarily must pollute. That pollution can be in the form of harm to air, water, soil, soil organisms, insects, animals, aquatic life and human’s mental and physical health through diseases and stress.
To now have the federal government, in the person of former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack, coming to Iowa with a U.S. taxpayer funded grant program making the argument that industrial agriculture will save us from industrial agriculture’s massive pollution through new technology working with ag waste is insulting to Iowans’ intelligence. The only reason we have this pollution problem is that we have adopted industrial agriculture as opposed to other ag models.
An example of this flawed kind of thinking is the state of Iowa’s recent push to build new agricultural digesters (using Iowans’ tax money as subsidies) to bring some waste from some hog confinements to these ag digesters to collect methane from that waste. Of course, the state doesn’t want you to understand that the some 15,000 hog confinements in Iowa already generate and discharge methane to the local neighborhoods and larger environment every day. There is plenty of methane (and other harmful toxins) already coming from existing confinements if companies want to use it. There is no need to build new ag digesters to get methane. Besides, no new waste programs will begin to touch the amount of pollution already coming from industrial agriculture.
Iowa agriculture is the major pollution contributor to the Gulf Of Mexico’s dead zone a thousand miles away. And, Iowa is the major ag contributor to the new acid rain, nitric acid rain from ammonia fertilizers and ammonia from confinements, raining down on the Midwest and eastern U.S.
The extent to which this industrial ag mentality has infiltrated some Iowans’ thinking can be shown by the Iowa Supreme Court’s recent hog confinement ruling. It seems the court has said that the state of Iowa has an interest in the raising of hogs in Iowa, but this is a zero sum game between hog confinements and neighbors. Apparently Iowa does not have an interest in the physical and mental health of Iowans.
There are other models of agriculture that Iowa can adopt that can feed us and provide us with manufacturing goods, all the while allowing us to have clean water, clean air and rejuvenated healthy soil.
To save Iowa and ourselves, we need to elect people who understand these issues.
Bob Watson lives in Decorah.