Factory Farm Progress Report
By Ed Fallon
It was an encouraging week for those of us who breathe air and drink water for a living. At a press conference in Clear Lake, Governor Vilsack issued a strong statement in response to a legislative committee’s attempt to negate a new DNR rule giving the public more input regarding hog confinements.
(Incidentally, it is encouraging to see Vilsack siding with the little guy in this matter since, as a senator in 1995, he voted for the original hog confinement bill. That bill, HF 519, barely passed on a 26 – 24 vote. And as governor in 2002, Vilsack signed the next significant pro-confinement bill, SF 2293. Yet a conversion is always welcome, and hopefully the Governor and the DNR will continue to speak to the concerns of the tens of thousands of Iowans whose lives are adversely affected by corporate hog confinements.)
In 1995, as a member of the House Agriculture Committee, I helped lead the charge against HF 519. The influence of campaign contributions became painfully clear during that debate. Jeff Hansen, CEO of one of the largest confinement operations, gave $42,000 to then-Governor Terry Branstad. Similarly in 2002, large donations from Hansen to Republican legislative leaders played a pivotal role in moving SF 2293 forward.
And in 2004, special interest groups – including Tyson, Monsanto, Syngenta, Iowa Select, Sparboe Egg and the Agribusiness Association of Iowa – gave over $50,000 to legislative and statewide candidates, both Republican and Democrat. By investing in key political leaders over the past decade, the confinement industry continues to reap huge benefits at the expense of Iowa’s air, water, family farms and rural communities.
Let’s look at the data to put things in perspective. Since 1995, the number of hogs produced in Iowa has gone up by only 20%. However, the number of farmers raising hogs has fallen by a staggering 73%! The 15,000 hog farms lost were mostly family operations forced out because of HF 519 and SF 2293. They have since been replaced by high-density, high-pollution confinements. And while I have empathy for some of the smaller operations owned by farm families who live on their land, the growing concentration of hogs in the hands of fewer and fewer large, mostly out-of-state corporations is a major concern.
Yet we’re making progress. This week, in addition to Vilsack’s positive statement, a citizens group in Dickinson County stopped a Minnesota confinement operator from building a large hog factory just a few miles from Iowa’s Great Lakes. Perhaps the tide is beginning to turn!
WHAT YOU CAN DO. (1) Thank Governor Vilsack and Iowa DNR director Jeff Vonk for their work on this issue. (2) Ask candidates for the Legislature and other state and local offices where they stand – and don’t settle for an answer that’s wishy-washy! (3) Write a letter to your local paper letting them and other readers know how you feel. Thanks, and in next week's update I'll answer the question everyone's been asking: “So Ed, what are you doing next?” Stay tuned…