Other Views: Legacy
of Iowa Hog Farms: Pollution, Sickness, Anger
By Rebecca L. Kipper
The Forum - 12/28/2003
Grand Forks, N.D.
Yep. Iím from Iowa. Corn and hogs.Ē I canít count the number of
times Iíve said that. When I was young, we complained that the corn was
boring and the hog farms stank, but these quaint pastoral icons of my
childhood were near and dear to our Iowan hearts. They are part of who we
are. Years later, Iowa is still a state of corn and hogs. However, we no
longer joke about the condition of our landscape. We worry. And, we fight.
Proud of its heritage, Iowa welcomed advances in hog farming in the early
1990ís which allowed operations to attract corporate interest and grow to
once unimagined scales. Our legislators and economists saw it as an
opportunity to establish a big and wealthy industry to our state. Advocates
of the new confinements and corporate neighbors appeased skepticism with
promises enormous tax revenue, stimulation of the economy, a rise in
property value, and more jobs for Iowans.
They said the new confinement systems were faultless, including
infallible measures to protect groundwater, soil, and air from any possible
contamination. They said the corporations would be the best of neighbors.
Once the confinements were established, we did not hear that our good old
neighbor a few miles down the road had a new and better job. Instead, we
heard that his small farm was driven out of business by the new,
well-subsidized corporate giant in a nearby county. We did not hear that our
good neighbors in the next town were selling their farm at a premium to new
developers for new industries to move in. Instead, we heard the value of
their land had plummeted due to the noxious fumes drifting above it and the
polluted waters flowing below it.
We did not find that our public services were better funded than ever.
Instead we discovered that confinements did far more damage to our public
infrastructure than the increased revenue could possibly cover.
Now, grassroots organizations and community boards across the state do
everything they can to keep hog confinements out of their neighborhoods.
Meanwhile, the state continues to support the confinements, struggling to
wring some return from their investment. The state and county governments
vie for control over the zoning and permits.
Our sectors of the economy engage in devastating price wars to win now
crucial corporate contracts. Neighbors argue over who will cover the cost of
the crippling environmental damage. Brothers feud, one a wage-slave to the
company that ruins the otherís livelihood. Our children are sick, our
budgets are tight, our lands and waters are dying, our communities and
families are divided and our options are running short.
And, the initial owners of the hog confinements are disappearing, having
sold their ruined property to unsuspecting investors and moved on to look
for clean space to build new ones.
Now North Dakota finds them on the doorstep, asking only for space and
promising great returns. If Iowa had a second chance, if Iowa had the luxury
of a nearby example, I like to think we would have said ďNo thank you. We
will keep our small farms and our good neighbors. We will keep our healthy
children, our healthy land and our peaceful land. No, thank you indeed.Ē
Kipper, a native of Ames, Iowa, is a research assistant at the University
of North Dakotaís Upper Midwest Aerospace Consortium. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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