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Democratic legislator continues push for ban of factory farms

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This is the fifth year legislation has been introduced to ban new large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFOs) construction in Iowa. Previous bills have not advanced.

State Representative Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, introduced a bill on Monday that aims to stop the construction of factory farms in Iowa. The legislation would work to hold big agricultural companies accountable for their water and air pollution.

Environmental and farming organizations have been pushing for a ban on factory farms in Iowa for the last five years. Now, they’re also calling for more protections for contract growers, those independent farmers working under large corporations.

Food and Water Watch organizer John Aspray said that more often than not, contract growers are the ones being punished for environmental violations, not large corporations.

“There are a lot of legislators that talk about the importance of being pro-farmer, and I think this takes real steps to actually look out for Iowa’s farmers,” he said, at a press conference on Monday.

The measure would grant the Department of Natural Resources greater oversight over concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). It would allow the state organization to regulate those corporations’ water pollution and hold them jointly accountable.

Organizers said the ban is needed to combat the state’s water pollution crisis. Aspray said he’s concerned about the large amounts of manure the factory farms produce. He said the lax enforcement of its disposal often leads to spills that contaminate Iowa’s water supplies.

In the past year, 16 manure spills were reported to the Department of Natural Resources.

“The factory farm system is destroying our environment and our health,” Aspray said.

The bill’s sponsor Staed said he’s concerned about factory farm’s adverse environmental effects and how they impact small farm’s businesses. He cited the loss of independent farms in Iowa. Between 1986 and 2007, the number of family farms declined by 86 percent in the state.

“I will not sit quietly and watch our state sacrificed so the corporations can make a quick buck. Iowans deserve a clean environment, and Iowa’s independent farmers deserve a fair market,” he said.

“There are a lot of legislators that talk about the importance of being pro-farmer, and I think this takes real steps to actually look out for Iowa’s farmers."
John Aspray, Food and Water Watch organizer

Iowa leads the country in pork producers. Over 10,000 large-scale farming operations exist in the state, with around 300 to 500 new facilities added each year, according to the Food and Water Watch.

The bill is unlikely to find much support in the Republican-controlled legislature. In past years, similar measures have failed to advance. Last year, Iowa House Speaker Pat Grassley described such bills as “dead on arrival”.

Staed said he hopes to see the bill in a subcommittee meeting this year.

“There are legislators in both parties that are very interested in doing something about this and taking action,” he said. “And for whatever reason, aren't willing to come forward at this time until they see a greater movement in the bill.”

Kendall is Iowa Public Radio’s western Iowa reporter based in Sioux City, IA.