Ignoring Iowa’s factory farm crisis is a big mistake

Emma Schmit is an Iowa organizer for Food & Water Watch. -promoted by Laura Belin

The rise of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has shown us a lot. We’ve seen communities banding together to protect our most vulnerable citizens. We’ve seen the courage of our frontline, essential workers as they continue to provide necessary services. We’ve seen the importance of clean water in safeguarding our public health. And we’ve seen citizens and local governments standing up to guarantee water as a human right.

Unfortunately, what we haven’t seen is Governor Kim Reynolds step up to be the leader we need. With more than 2,400 employees of Iowa slaughterhouses testing positive for COVID-19, our supply chain failing, and no meaningful action taken to address either, it’s clear we need new leadership.

While we’ll have to wait until 2022 to replace our governor, we have a chance to elect new legislators willing to put Iowans before agribusinesses this year. It’s time we rebuild our food and farm system so that it is capable of withstanding future crises. We can do so by transitioning to a regionalized system that favors independent family farmers, safeguards our environment, and rebuilds our rural economies.

Our Water Can’t Wait

With more 760 impaired waterways, more than 10,000 private wells polluted with bacteria and chemicals related to industrial agriculture runoff, and some 200 community water systems struggling to provide clean water, Iowa’s water crisis is undeniable. We must demand bold, uncompromising solutions to improving our water quality, and as handwashing has become critical in stopping the spread of the current pandemic, we need those solutions now.

Iowa holds its primary tomorrow, June 2. Candidates have had an opportunity to release their signature issues and priorities over the past couple months. Our water quality, and the correlated pollution from the factory farm industry, should be on the top of every candidate’s list. After witnessing the importance of clean water in protecting public health, we can’t afford to continue ignoring the dire state of our most important natural resource. In casting primary ballots, voters across the state are looking for powerful policy proposals that take on the factory farm industry and protect our water from industrial agriculture pollution.

By transitioning away from policies that favor multi-billion dollar corporations, we can also begin restoring our food and farm system. The consolidation of the livestock industry has led us to the point where our supply chain is failing. There’s no reason for it to be this way.

It’s time to put an end to the overwhelming power of corporations like Tyson and JBS. By doing so, we can begin rebuilding the local infrastructure that allowed rural Iowa to prosper for so many years. Reinvesting in small scale lockers and independent family farms will provide for a more sustainable, durable food system while renewing local economies across rural Iowa.

Rather than allowing a handful of corporations only worried about their bottom line to have near-complete control of our food supply, we can invest in the people who actually care about their communities by spreading that power out amongst hundreds of processors, farmers, ranchers, and workers across Iowa. Folks who will use local labor, purchase goods from local stores, enroll their children in local schools, and put the health and wellbeing of local residents above the corporate greed we’ve come to see from Big Ag.

Iowa’s factory farm crisis needs to be a leading issue

During the 2020 legislative session, Food & Water Action, in partnership with Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, joined with dozens of other organizations to lobby for legislation calling for a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms. We know our current system of agriculture is unsustainable. The COVID-19 crisis has only highlighted the issues that have been building for decades. Factory farms are not only the perfect breeding ground for the next global pandemic, but also impacting our public health already. From increasing antibiotic resistance to polluting our water sources with nitrates and harmful bacteria to the myriad of respiratory illnesses caused by breathing in the toxic air contaminants produced on factory farms, we cannot continue risking our safety and public health so a few multi-billion dollar companies can continue growing their profit margins. Our legislators need to take the first step in addressing these issues, before they get worse, by enacting a statewide moratorium on factory farms.

While eighteen members of the House co-sponsored the factory farm moratorium legislation this year and at least eight more expressed support, several Democrats still claimed that a factory farm moratorium isn’t a winning issue. They’re wrong.Recent polling from John Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future found that 63 percent of Iowans support a moratorium. Breaking the number down, 83 percent of Democrats, 54 percent of no-party voters, and 44 percent of Republicans would approve of a moratorium on factory farms.

Eight candidates seeking the Democratic presidential nomination came out in support of a moratorium. More than a quarter of Iowa’s counties have passed resolutions calling for stronger protections from the factory farm industry. While the Farm Bureau and Pork Producers are still trying to convince our legislators and 2020 candidates that a factory farm moratorium isn’t an issue to campaign on, the voters of Iowa are saying the exact opposite. We recognize the harmful impacts factory farms are having on our water, our communities, and our quality of life. It’s time our government steps up to work for us, not multi-billion dollar agribusinesses. 

Factory farms impact everyone

The notion that voters won’t support an “anti-agriculture” candidate is based on Farm Bureau propaganda. We must stop allowing a glorified insurance company to craft the image of a farmer’s politician. Agribusinesses may not support a moratorium on factory farms because they want to protect their bottom line, but thousands of Iowans from every corner of the state are pushing back against these false narratives.

Rural Iowans, in particular, have seen the harmful impacts the consolidation of our food and farm industry has created first hand. Our private wells are polluted with bacteria and chemicals linked to industrial agricultural run-off. Our schools, hospitals, and small businesses have closed as more and more farmers are forced to find work elsewhere. Our counties have to operate on shoestring budgets while factory farms claim millions in tax credits every year.

Iowans need real champions willing to fight for the vitality and prosperity of our communities, not more leaders willing to say anything to get elected. Now more than ever, we need to defend the truth. It isn’t “anti-agriculture” to support policies that place the needs of Iowans before the pocketbooks of monopolistic corporations. 

Candidates for elected office need to be willing to take bold action to protect the future of our state. A moratorium on factory farms is the first step in creating a food and agriculture system that protects our environment, our public health, and our communities. It’s the only solution that begins to address Iowa’s water quality crisis, climate change, corporate control, failing rural economies, and the public health impacts of the industry in one fell swoop. For too long, we’ve allowed a handful of powerful agriculture companies to run roughshod over Iowa’s environment, economy, and lawmakers. As a pandemic spreads throughout our communities and makes the value of clean water more apparent than ever, it’s critical that our legislators are representing the interests of Iowans, not powerful corporate donors.

It’s time those running for office prioritize the vitality and prosperity of our state. Iowans are ready for a moratorium on new and expanded factory farms — and any candidate hoping to be elected this November ought to be, too. Sign the petition to let Iowa’s 2020 candidates know voters support a factory farm moratorium.

Top photo of an Iowa CAFO provided by the author and published with permission.

Maintenance Notice - As of November 14, 2023 we are still seeing issues with replying to comments...Thanks for your patience, this will be restored.