Environmentalists Make Long-Shot Attempt to Ban New Factory Farms


By: Alex Brown, PEW Trusts

Stateline Article - February 19, 2021


Iowa has a poop problem.


The Hawkeye State’s pigs, cows and chickens produce about as much waste as 134 million people—nearly the population of Russia. Most of that manure is spread onto fields as fertilizer, where significant amounts of it wash into Iowa waterways. The city of Des Moines uses one of the most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world to make its water supply from the Raccoon River safe to drink.


“We have to ask if we can reconcile our water quality goals with the idea that we can continue to expand the livestock industry,” said Chris Jones, a professor and water quality researcher at the University of Iowa. “And we can't. Where there's a high density of livestock, those watersheds tend to have the highest nitrogen and phosphorous levels.”


For decades, scientists have studied the effects that livestock farms with large animal concentrations in Iowa and other states have on regional water quality, as increasing amounts of waste flow into rivers and groundwater. Now activists and some lawmakers say emergency measures are needed to stop toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay, and threats to drinking water in rural communities. In some states, lawmakers worry about the future of smaller family farms.


Since last year, legislators in at least four states—Iowa, Maryland, Minnesota and Oregon—have proposed moratoriums on new or expanding farms that have more than a certain amount of livestock. None of the proposed bans is expected to become law this year, but the lawmakers say they aim to build momentum.


Meanwhile, regulators in Michigan and Wisconsin are crafting new rules that would limit manure spreading during the winter, when the ground is frozen and waste is more likely to wash away.


Those efforts face fierce opposition from the livestock industry, which notes that Americans rely on the operations for meat, dairy and eggs.


“Agriculture is the lifeblood of the state of Iowa,” said Cora Fox, director of government relations for the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, an advocacy group for the beef industry. “This burdensome regulation would stifle Iowa's economy.”


At the federal level, Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, has proposed legislation that would phase out so-called factory farms within 20 years. Another bill from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, would strengthen antitrust laws, a proposal that agriculture observers think could have major consequences for corporate consolidation in the industry.


But agriculture is a significant economic engine in many states. Iowa, the nation’s top pork-producing state—where at any time some 24 million pigs are being raised, according to the Iowa Pork Producers Association—exports meat around the world.


The state’s number of concentrated animal feeding operations, known as CAFOs, grew from 722 in 2001 to more than 10,000 in 2017, according to a study on the industry by two retired University of Iowa professors. On those large-scale farms, hogs or poultry are raised inside large buildings.


The livestock industry also has cultivated political power. This week, some environmental activists told reporters that Iowa’s bill, at least, isn’t likely to get even a hearing in the GOP-dominated legislature...


Growing Concern ...


A Fast-Growing Industry ...


Nationwide Dilemma ...


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