Published February 19, 2020, by The Des Moines Register
Writing in these pages two years ago, we called for a statewide moratorium on new or expanded concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Our detailed review of published research on water quality and public health impacts of CAFOs concluded Iowa had passed the tipping point for action.
Manure leaks and spills result in fish kills, nitrate and ammonia pollution, antibiotic-hormone and bacterial contamination, algae blooms, impaired waterways and closed beaches. CAFO neighbors suffer increased childhood asthma and adult asthma, bronchitis, airway obstruction, nasal and eye irritation. Animal agriculture still consumes, largely for growth promotion, over 70% of medically important antibiotics. This practice promotes antibiotic resistant infections.
CAFO neighbors also suffer odor-associated increases in stress, tension, depression, and confusion, and decreases in measures of quality of life and well-being. And, CAFO neighbor property values, depending on distance and prevailing winds, decrease 20% to 40%.
Bills have been introduced in the General Assembly to address these issues but never reach a floor vote.
Now, all indicators find that things are worse than when we last wrote.
Largely because of 23 million hogs, Iowa now has a “Fecal Equivalent Population” of 168 million people, as the University of Iowa's Chris Jones has shown. Over-application of manure, too often on frozen ground, and miles of increased field tiling drive increases in Iowa’s stream nitrate loads.
Effects are not limited to Iowa. As the UI's Jones has shown, our water leads all states in discharged nutrient loads (29% of all nitrogen, 15% of all phosphorous) to the Gulf of Mexico, thereby widening the “dead zone.”
In addition, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources draft 2018 report shows that impaired waterways have increased to 767, 16 more than in 2016.
Iowa has by far the most CAFOs of any state. We should heed the American Public Health Association’s Governing Council’s call in November 2019 for a national moratorium on new or expanded CAFOs, citing their “threat to air quality, drinking water and human health” and to “stop using medically important antibiotics in healthy animals.”
Iowans on both sides of the aisle clearly care about this uncontrolled degradation of our rural environment. A poll from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (clf.jhsph.edu) finds that a majority of registered Iowa voters support a moratorium.
• Sixty-three percent (81% of Democrats, 60% of independents, 51% of Republicans) deemed it important for the General Assembly to pass legislation to ban new CAFOs or expand existing CAFOs.
• Eight in 10 of those surveyed expressed concern about the threat of water and/or air pollution on CAFO workers and nearby communities.
• A majority (51%) agreed that CAFOs contribute a “significant amount” to water pollution, and 49% agreed that CAFOs contribute significantly to air pollution in nearby communities.
Seventy-five percent of those surveyed thought the DNR's process for approving new CAFOs should be more stringent. Elected supervisors in 27 counties (up from 20 two years ago) support a CAFO moratorium until there are changes in DNR’s method of approving them.
Rural Iowans, whose air and water quality are now badly impaired by CAFOs, are paying the price for industrial livestock operations that externalize the cost of pollution while their profits often go to out-of-state corporations.
Iowa voters are fed up. It is past time for the General Assembly to pass a moratorium on new and expanded CAFOs.