by Chris Peterson
As many know, there is a proposal in the works for a large-scale meatpacking plant in Mason City where live hogs will be shipped, killed and processed.
This is a big step for Mason City, Clear Lake and northern Iowa and an unknown positive or negative for the future. It is essential for the general public — not just politicians — to evaluate risks and ask questions.
Is the city ready to accept everything it is being told by the company? Investigations into other packing plant towns should be conducted and citizens there should be asked what the smell and air-quality impacts have been for them as well as the plant workers.
This is a valid concern as the proposed plant is directly south of town and the prevailing southerly winds will blow toward Mason City most of the time.
Another issue is the massive use of water it will take to kill and process 10,000 pigs daily. If city infrastructure can’t handle the usage, taxpayers will pick up the bill. Also, keep in mind pigs dress out at approximately 72 percent meat. The rest will have to be processed into something else or become waste. How will this waste be handled? These things need to be investigated beyond inquiring with the company and those with a stake in the project.
Another fact is the pigs will not be from traditional independent family farmers. A majority of traditional independent pig farmers are being put out of business by the corporate meatpacking industry. Big meatpacking companies control the market by owning their own factory farms or by controlling their supply through contracts with vertically integrated industrial farms where the packers own the hogs and the farmers basically own the debt for the hog buildings and the waste they leave behind.
If this plant is constructed, the pigs will have to come from somewhere. Slaughter plants of this size typically bring pigs from a 75-mile radius — any further than that and you have additional costs of transport, higher death rates, etc.
This plant won’t be able to siphon hogs away from other plants based on the way the industry operates. This means that with a 10,000-a-day kill rate, the plant won’t have enough pigs to fill its demand. What will result is a massive industrial hog-confinement building boom in northern Iowa.
If you are an established family farm/acreage owner and finally put up your dream home in the last few years, the use and enjoyment of your property and quality of life will tank if a hog confinement goes up near you. Under current state law, basically the first line of defense is to pray daily.
There will be a lot of liquid sewage generated, which will be applied all over your neighborhood and beyond. The big picture is it will be all about big corporations, lots of hogs, manure and negative consequences.
So, is this a deal with the devil — a kiss of death, so to speak — for Mason City and northern Iowa? Are we giving away our quality of life, water quality, enjoyment of property, a clean environment, our health and vibrant tourist industries in Mason City and Clear Lake which have grown by leaps and bounds in recent years?
We need the truth and these questions answered before this is welcomed into our community. So far it seems things have gone on behind closed doors with no transparency. We just get occasional “progress” updates in the media. Where do the citizens of northern Iowa fit into this?
At the very least, I call for a public hearing so the residents get these questions answered, full information and have a say about our future. After all, Mason City folks, it’s your town and this area is our home! Let your mayors, city councils, county health and supervisors know there needs to be a public meeting.
Chris Petersen, Clear Lake, is a farmer and is associated with the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project (www.sraproject.org) and works across the United States.