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Ads anger pork producers

By Staff | Apr 12, 2008

A series of advertisements in the Estherville Spirit on the concentration of hog confinements in Emmet County has caught the attention — and consternation — of local hog producers.

A side effect of the ads, though, is that they are keeping alive the discussion of who should control building of hog confinements and where they should be located.

Natalie Snyders, rural organizer for Iowa CCI (Citizens for Community Improvement), said Emmet County CCI members had paid for the series of ads showing the concentration of hog confinements in the county to educate the public. A map in the ad in the April 8 Spirit shows 67 hog confinements in the county with the question: “What is this map going to look like in 5 years?”

“They kind of wanted to raise some awareness on hog confinement issues,” Snyders said.

Snyders said CCI favors local control of hog confinements. “That’s something we’ve been looking at for a long time,” she said, adding that the organization has been looking at the Humboldt County ordinance. That ordinance, incidentally, received a thumbs down from the Iowa Supreme Court several years ago.

The matrix system administered by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources is what currently governs proposed hog confinements. Those proposing confinements must score 440 out of 880 points on the matrix evaluation. Many applicants just complete enough areas of the matrix to score just over 440 points because they are obligated to meet those areas of the matrix they check off. The matrix addresses such issues as the distance from waterways, public areas, and neighboring structures.

“We think that the matrix system is flawed,” Snyders said. “The final decision rests with the DNR.”

Snyders said CCI had worked with ISAC, the Iowa State Association of Counties, to put the hog confinement issue on its agenda.

“Local control is what our ideal is,” Snyders said.

She said CCI also opposes having taxpayers pay for air quality studies currently being conducted by Iowa State University. She said factory farms should not benefit from taxpayers. Also, said Snyders, “We feel it’s a stall tactic.”

Dave Anderson, a CCI member who lives near Armstrong, acknowledged there were a few members in the county. “There’s a few of us in Emmet County that joined,” Anderson.

However, Anderson said it was CCI, not the members, who paid for the ads. “They did. They’re paying for them,” Anderson said.

When asked about that discrepancy, Snyders said, “We’re sharing the costs, actually.”

When asked why CCI was publishing the ads, Anderson said, “I think they’re just trying to build their membership base.”

The Emmet County Board of Supervisors deals with hog confinement issues weekly. The board reviews each matrix application before passing it on to the DNR.

“It’s always been my position that there should be some local control along with some other qualified entities. Someone who understands economic and environmental issues both,” said Supervisor Roger Anderson.

“I feel that the matrix is the most fair way because there isn’t any influence as to where they should go,” said Supervisor Jim Jenson. “It’s the state that sets the regulations and they should be the one to make the determination. However, I don’t think the laws are maybe strict enough.”

When asked about the CCI position on the ISU odor study, said Jenson, “The people that have the concerns with the safety should pay.” If harm is indeed occurring from confinements, then Jenson said the confinement owners should pay for the remaining cost of the study.

Jenson said much of the issue of the growing number of confinements will be dealt with economically, considering low hog prices. He thinks too that confinement pits should be taxed with the money going to road repair.

“I’m not a total advocate of local control,” said Board of Supervisors Chair Alan Madden. He pointed out that one county could be stricter than others if local control were an option. “You could have 99 sets of rules,” Madden said.

“We need regulation,” Madden said, noting that no county is equipped to handle all the confinement control issues that could arise.

Madden also thinks the matrix should not be applied exactly the same for every county. “That’s the one-size-fits-all and I don’t agree with that.”

Madden said he proposed to the Legislature last year that different levels of the matrix be considered, with a base level of requiring that water quality and other environmental standards be maintained. The matrix could then evolve toward stricter controls.

With local control, though, Madden said there could be one county “blatantly polluting the waters” and another county restricting any future confinements.

“There’s some merit to the matrix,” Madden said. “I think some uniformity is good. The matrix itself could be tightened up and improved upon.”

Madden said he also favors having applicants complete all questions on the matrix and if they can’t provide a satisfactory answer, points will be subtracted. By having applicants complete the entire matrix, Madden said important items could be discovered that would otherwise be missed.

“I think local control is very much a double-edged sword,” Madden said.

Madden favored making the pork industry responsible for itself.

“They should help themselves. They can’t deny they have a problem,” Madden said. “The studies that have been made have just delayed anything from happening. I think that the pork producers need to step up to the plate.”

Madden acknowledged the value of hog manure as fertilizer. “If it were eliminated it would affect everybody,” Madden said. “I consider manure to be a very green product.” Madden said while commercial fertilizer raises soil pH, hog and cattle manure will reduce pH levels.

While admitting “there’s some areas where we definitely do have enough” confinements, Madden said the buildings are not eyesores. “They do a good job of keeping them up,” he said.

Area pork producer Jim Boyer sees CCI as not keeping pace with modern agriculture.

“They’re anti-livestock. They’re anti-modern agriculture. They want to go back to the 1950s and 60s when agriculture was a lifestyle and not a business,” Boyer said.

“It’s an activist organization. You have to see where their money’s coming from. It’s coming from environmental activist groups.”

Concentration of hog confinements one of many issues with which CCI deals. Another is amnesty for undocumented workers.

According to Erica Palmer, CCI organizer in Marshalltown, the organization’s goal is to allow people to come out of the shadows and find a pathway to citizenship.

“Mass deportations do not make sense,” Palmer said. “This is not in accordance with basic human rights.”

Palmer said NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) has actually forced people off the land in Mexico and that is one reason they are seeking work in the U.S. She said a visa system is also needed that takes those economic realities into consideration. She said CCI wants an immigration system that respects all workers.