Iowa lawmakers chose corporate agriculture and factory farms again

Emma Schmit (Food & Water Action) and Ava Auen-Ryan (CCI Action): Certain Iowa leaders kept the factory farm moratorium from advancing this year, despite unprecedented support. -promoted by Laura Belin

Iowans kicked off 2020 with an unprecedented push to stop factory farms and address climate chaos, but this legislative session’s first deadline passed with no action. 

Once again, Republican leadership kept widely supported moratorium legislation from moving forward and instead worked in favor of corporate agribusiness, not the people of Iowa.

Meanwhile, leaders like Democratic State Representative Sharon Steckman and State Senator Claire Celsi, along with more than 20 co-sponsors, introduced legislation that would have been a first step in revolutionizing our food and agriculture system into a model that works for farmers, communities, and the environment, not just multi-billion dollar agribusinesses.

The bills – House File 2127 and Senate File 2254 – called for enacting a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms until the impacts of the industry have been assessed. 

Right now, Iowa has more than 760 impaired waterways and 10,000 polluted private wells. Agricultural runoff accounts for much of the contamination. As agribusiness has continued to decrease the number of small, independent family farms, our rural communities are deteriorating. We face more school consolidation, business closures, lower property values, and a shrinking tax base to fund necessary resources. The imminent threat of climate change just compounds our struggles. 

In order to address each of the harms caused by the factory farm industry, it is critical that we take time out to appraise the damage before it is too late. Our water, our communities, and our futures are on the line.

Unfortunately, during this session certain GOP leaders in the legislature were more focused on pushing failed measures like banning abortion access and ending daylight savings time than addressing Iowa’s factory farm crisis. And some Democrats didn’t respond to citizen pressure and still oppose a moratorium as well.

Despite new polling showing 63 percent of Iowans support a moratorium on factory farms, GOP leadership refused to even discuss it. They ignored legislation calling for a moratorium and they ignored the democratic process. House File 2127 languished on House Speaker Pat Grassley’s desk for days on end before he would assign it to a committee. Then House Agriculture Committee chair Ross Paustian followed Grassley’s lead and refused to assign the legislation to a subcommittee.

That was not surprising, since Paustian operates multiple factory farms himself. 

On the other hand, the Senate at least assigned the bill to a subcommittee. However, by doing so less than three full days before the “funnel” deadline and stacking the subcommittee with oppositional forces, Senate Agriculture Committee chair Dan Zumbach ensured the bill would die without debate.

With the Iowa Farm Bureau’s political action committee donating $348,676.19 to Republican legislators from 2014 to 2018, it’s no surprise GOP officials are choosing to represent large donors, industry insiders, and massive corporations rather than constituents, taxpayers, and Iowa residents.

Enough is enough. Clean water matters. Rural communities matter. Independent family farmers matter. The will of the people matters. As the 2020 legislative session carries on and with November elections only a few short months away, let’s remind our elected officials that Iowans want bold, visionary solutions to our water pollution crisis. We urgently need a moratorium on factory farms.

Top photo of an Iowa farm landscape by Emma Schmit, provided by the author and published with permission.

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