A large group of protestors gathered at the Iowa state Capitol building Jan. 23, calling on the state Legislature to put a moratorium on building new and expanding existing concentrated animal feeding operations.
Carrying signs with messages such as “No more factory farms” and “Iowans deserve clean water,” the protestors also presented a petition to all 2020 presidential candidates calling on them to support the proposed state moratorium as well as proposed federal legislation to “curtail factory farms.”
On the same day, an animal rights group released selected video footage of its findings when the group illegally entered a hog production facility near Oskaloosa last April. This group of activists, representing a California-based organization called Direct Action Everywhere, said in a statement: “Inside the barns, we documented severe rectal prolapses, intense overcrowding with noxious ammonia in the air and excrement coating the floors. One piglet was unable to stand, gasping for air while thrashing wildly for several minutes, before dying before our eyes.”
The coalition of 150 or more protestors at the Iowa capitol included Food and Water Action (FWA), Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action (CCI Action), and Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture (IARA). They spent the day lobbying at the state legislature.
Groups pushing caucus candidates
The protests and the video release last week came 11 days before the 2020 Iowa caucuses. Iowa is the first state in the nation to hold a caucus or primary where voters can choose a candidate for each party, Democratic and Republican, in the process of picking a nominee for the 2020 presidential election in November. The Iowa caucuses will be held Feb. 3 statewide.
Both of the protesting groups are placing a factory farm moratorium among the top issues for voters to consider.
“Seven candidates in the race for president of the U.S. have acknowledged the negative impacts of factory farming, but all of them must commit to a moratorium or ban. That’s what we are asking them to do. Iowa adds 300 to 600 new factory farms annually,” said Diane Rosenberg, representing IARA.
She added, “We are here today because Iowa has a factory farm crisis: 25 million hogs, 55 million chickens and other livestock crammed into 13,000 factory farms. Generating the same amount of sewage as 134 million people that is spread — without treatment — on fields across the state. It’s no wonder we have a water quality crisis with a record number 767 polluted waterways.”
Citing water quality concerns
Kim Stephens, a resident living next to three 5,000-head hog farms and an Iowa CCI Action member said, “I’m a mom to three young boys, and I want to protect the air and water around them and their peers so that when they grow up, they choose to stay here in rural Iowa. I want them to grow up healthy. I want them and their kids to be able to play carefree in the many waterways in this state. Iowa is beautiful, with a variety of landscapes. I want to keep it that way.”
The protestors at the Capitol also said in their statement: “Large livestock farms are large contributors to antibiotic resistance, which causes 35,000 deaths per year. In communities close to factory farms, children have an increased risk of developing respiratory diseases, like asthma. To protect themselves and shelter against the smell, many families living near factory farms avoid going outside, preventing them from enjoying their neighbors and Iowa’s natural resources.”
The protestors said increasing support for a moratorium on building large livestock farms has come from everywhere but the state Legislature, “so it’s time for our elected officials to finally act. On the local level, 1 in 4 Iowa counties has passed local resolutions to stop the expansion of factory farms.”
David Osterberg, from the Iowa Policy Project, said, “Iowans on both sides of the aisle clearly care about this uncontrolled degradation of our rural environment. A poll from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future finds that a majority of registered Iowa voters support a moratorium on factory farming.”
Moratorium on large hog farms
Emma Schmit, an organizer for FWA, said: “Several legislators have already taken bold action against factory farms by calling for a moratorium on new and expanded operations. But we need more of our leaders to step up. This legislation must not stall in committee. We’ve seen that for the past two years, and I’m tired of it. How much do we have to sacrifice before something is done? How many waterways have to be polluted? How many farmers have to be shoved out by multibillion-dollar corporations? Enough is enough!”
Chris Petersen, serving on the board of directors of the Iowa Farmer’s Union and a member of IARA, said, “As a rural resident and an independent farmer I see the devastating impacts of a runaway building boom of factory farms not only affecting independent family farms [94% of independent pig farmers are gone], but also adversely affecting the environment. We’re talking about water quality, human health, rural neighborhoods and even rural social structure.”
The statement released by the coalition concluded: “The independent family farm was once the heart of rural Iowa. Rural communities with more small and medium-sized farms have higher incomes, lower unemployment and lower income inequality — in short, more shared prosperity — than communities with factory farms. Profits from these independent family-owned farms are put back into the community and pushed back into locally owned stores that kick-start local economies.”
Iowa nation’s leading hog producer
Activists at the rally were calling on lawmakers to consider a House bill introduced last year that would impose a moratorium on hog farm permits statewide. Republican committee leaders blocked the Democratic-sponsored bill by declining to assign it to a committee.
Officials in about a fourth of Iowa’s counties have passed resolutions asking lawmakers to impose a moratorium. Iowa is the nation’s leading hog-producing state. Iowa had nearly 25 million pigs on farms in December, according to USDA, a record December inventory.
The protestors pointed out that Iowa has seen an increasing number of rivers, lakes and streams impaired by pollutants. Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said last week she is proposing a 1-cent increase in the state sales tax to generate an additional $100 million annually to help provide cost-share funding for water quality protection and improvement projects, including more cost-share funding for farmers to put more practices such as cover crops, bioreactors and grass buffers along streams on the land.