top of page

CAFO Threatens City of Coppock: JFAN’s Help Sought

CAFO Threatens City of Coppock

By Diane Rosenberg

President and Executive Director


A 4950-head nursery hog confinement is being considered on land owned by Chris Boshart within Coppock city limits. The city of Coppock includes land within Jefferson, Washington, and Henry Counties with the CAFO itself to be sited in Washington County.  Mr. Boshart works for Agriway Partners of Wayland, and it’s believed the CAFO will be affiliated with Agriway. Nearly all city residents as well as the city government oppose the confinement and the community sought JFAN’s support to help stop this CAFO. 

The 4950 nursery hogs equates to only 495 animal units (AU), given the small size of nursery pigs. This is under the 500 AU threshold that would require DNR notification. Therefore, a manure management plan and construction design statement isn’t required, nor are separation distances required from homes, businesses, and churches, although there are a few mandated for water

sources and wells. A CAFO this size often comes as a surprise to a community since no applications are involved.


Community members reached out to JFAN for help after an alert resident discovered a small legal notice in the Washington Journal requesting public comments for an environmental review being conducted by Farm Services Agency (FSA). An environmental review is required if government funds, such as a government-backed loan, are being requested. The review enables the FSA to prepare a required Environmental Assessment (EA) that provides a snapshot of potential environmental impacts.


JFAN visited the area, spoke to residents, and researched historical documents before preparing and submitting a six-page report to the FSA outlining several environmental concerns. Numerous community members also submitted comments. Once the FSA completes the EA, the community will have 14 days to comment. 


If there are significant environmental issues, the FSA could require the CAFO owners to prepare a more comprehensive and costly Environmental Impact Statement. At a cost of several thousand dollars, the Environmental Impact Statement could, in and of itself, serve as a potential deterrent to the CAFO. JFAN will assist community members in their review of the EA when it becomes available to determine if an Environmental Impact Statement could be triggered.


JFAN mailed letters, information sheets and a map to approximately 100 families within a two-mile radius of the proposed CAFO site as well as a thriving food and drink business on the Skunk River in Coppock. We met with the Coppock mayor and city council and spoke to several other concerned neighbors. 


City council members say nearly all residents are opposed to the confinement with many expressing concerns for their wells, which provide the community’s drinking water. JFAN has outlined several strategies the community is considering. Ultimately, it is up to the people of Coppock to decide how best to express their opposition. We will continue to provide ongoing informational guidance and support to them as long as necessary.

Big Ag’s PR Campaign to Shape Public Thinking on Factory Farms

Big Ag's PR Campaign

by Dr. John Ikerd

Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri at Columbia 


Finally, the promoters of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are on the defensive – after many years of persistent opposition. The general public is beginning to awaken to the problems and perils of CAFOs. The war against CAFOs may be far from won, but the tide of the battle seems to be turning. As might be expected at this point, the defenders of CAFOs have mounted major counteroffensives all across the country. For example, the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) is a new national public relations initiative defending so-called modern, industrial agriculture. It is supported by a multi-million dollar annual budget provided by major agricultural commodity organizations and agribusiness

corporations. Bob Stallman who is president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, a major promoter of CAFOs, also serves as chairman of USFRA. 


The primary objective of the organization is to defend modern industrial agriculture against a growing wave of public concerns, as the public relations firm in charge of USFRA propaganda readily admits. Several states have formed “Farmers Care” organizations with similar missions and are collaborating with USFRA to portray a positive public image for industrial agriculture, which includes a series of public forums or “Food Dialogues.” These groups claim to be advocates for all types of farms, which is but a thinly disguised effort to obscure their obvious pro-corporate/industrial agriculture bias.  The USFRA website defines “food safety, animal welfare, water quality, and consumer prices and choices” as their major lines of defense.

Naturally, CAFOs are highlighted in the current “defense of farming” initiatives, since CAFOs are the epitome of so-called modern, industrial agriculture. Young families who own CAFOs are featured in videos as the faces of modern agriculture. These families talk about their love of farming, concern for their communities, and their commitments to caring for their animals and protecting the environment. “Breakfasts on the Farm” have become popular events where the public is invited to visit local farms for breakfast. CAFOs are touted as the only means many multi-generational farmers have for continuing the family tradition of farming.

The propaganda claims animals in CAFOs are actually treated more humanely than in previous non-confinement facilities. They claim confinement buildings are well ventilated to keep animals cool in the summer and can be closed in the winter to protect animals from the cold. Baby pigs are provided a warmer environment during winter farrowing, and farrowing crates protect them from accidental crushing by their mothers. They claim slotted concrete floors provide a much cleaner environment than do open lots or pastures, and efficient ventilation systems provide animals with plenty of clean, fresh air. CAFOs are portrayed as veritable pork palaces where happy pigs lead peaceful lives of perpetual comfort.

Proponents also claim that CAFOs are actually better for water quality, and the environment in general, than were the pastures or open feed lots. They tout the effectiveness of modern manure management systems, with comprehensive manure plans that include details of where and when manure will be spread. Modern manure storage facilities that allow manure to be spread only one or two times a year are replacing open manure “lagoons,” thus minimizing any odor problems for neighbors. CAFO proponents claim that neighbors who continue to complain about odors or water quality problems are people from cities who have moved into rural areas and don’t understand the environmental realities of farming. After all, CAFOs are subjected to strict U.S. and state environmental regulation, so they claim.

CAFO proponents respond to food safety concerns with proclamations that Americans have the safest, most healthful food system in the world.  They tout the biosecurity and other sanitation measures taken by CAFOs as a reflection of commitment by modern agriculture to ensuring food safety as well as minimizing diseases. Organic, free-range, pasture-based, and other systems of livestock and poultry production are touted as means of providing consumers with choices. The clear message is that other producers should reciprocate by not saying anything derogatory about CAFOs. Whenever food safety concerns break through into headlines, however, CAFO advocates are quick to direct public scrutiny to organic production practices or to smaller, less-regulated operations, such as farmers markets and direct sales of raw milk. Laws against criticizing industrial food products (veggie libel laws) have been largely ineffective, so industrial agriculture has turned to public relations as a means of silencing criticism.  Continuing concerns regarding a variety of public health risks associated with CAFOs are brushed aside as being anecdotal and lacking in scientific credibility.


In an attempt to seal their case, proponents claim CAFOs are the only means of providing consumers with adequate quantities of meat, milk, and eggs at affordable prices. The groups point to the growth in CAFOs as clear and compelling evidence that CAFOs are simply a rational producer response to consumer demand. They argue that CAFOs could not have displaced the smaller livestock and poultry operations if CAFOs were not more economically efficient in providing the products that consumers need and want. Even if some consumers have concerns about animal welfare, the environment, and food safety, proponents claim that such concerns are small prices to pay for the economic benefits of CAFOs. Nothing worthwhile in life is ever without some risks. Obviously, more people are concerned about keeping prices low than about any added risks associated with CAFOs; otherwise we wouldn’t have CAFOs. 


In general, CAFO proponents blame growing public concerns for animal welfare and environment issues on radical “animal rights” and environmental groups that are more concerned about funding their organizations than protecting animals or the environment. Those who are concerned about food safety and the demise of family farms are labeled as “Luddites” or “idealists” who resist progress or long to return to some idealistic past that never really existed.  After all, farmers depend on healthy animals and fertile soil for their livelihood, they say. Voluntary compliance with industry-defined standards of good management practices is all that is needed. The impersonal forces of a free-market economy have chosen CAFOs. Case closed!


Most long-time veterans of the CAFO wars know the fallacies of such claims, but proponents are banking on being able to sell their pro-CAFO propaganda to a largely-uninformed general public. This means that CAFO opponents must be willing to move their battles beyond the concerns of rural communities and into the larger arena of general public opinion. Although CAFO opponents lack the corporate funding of those who promote CAFOs, we have one important advantage: We don’t have to rely on false propaganda; we only need to tell the truth. 


First, we need to continually remind the public that opponents of CAFOs are not opponents of “real agriculture” or “real farming.” Although there are many “bad actors” among CAFO owners and operators, in truth, many others are simply “good people” who have become entrapped in a “bad system.” In fact, most opponents of CAFOs are actually proponents of animal agriculture. We oppose CAFOs because they are the epitome of everything that is wrong about large-scale, specialized, standardized, corporately-controlled industrial agriculture. 


We also need to admit that it may be theoretically possible to plan, construct, and operate a CAFO in a manner that would not threaten the natural environment or public health. The problem is that CAFOs don’t operate in a theoretical world; they must cope with the vagaries of an unpredictable reality. CAFO operators can host “breakfasts on the farm” and visits by various dignitaries because, for at least for a few days, they can clean up their act and operate responsibly when it’s needed for good public relations. While some CAFOs may not harm the environment some of the time, the hard, cold truth is that whenever a significant number are located in a given area, one or more of the CAFOs will be polluting the environment at any given time, and any one of them will be polluting at least some of the time.


If CAFOs are models of environmental stewardship, why has the US EPA found 35,000 miles of rivers and groundwater in 17 states polluted by CAFOs? Why have the number of waterways labeled as “impaired” by the Iowa DNR jumped from 215 in 1987 to 642 in 2012, as CAFOs took over the Iowa hog industry? The fact that some streams are still clean and some water wells are still not contaminated, is not a logical defense. If such pollution is a result of irresponsible management, then irresponsible management obviously is widespread and ongoing among CAFO operators. The pollutants originating from CAFOs include nitrogen, phosphorus, antibiotics, pesticides, and heavy metals. Municipalities along these streams have been forced to add costly waste treatment facilities to mitigate the effects of CAFOs on their drinking water.

Why have massive “dead zones” been created in the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay, and elsewhere by CAFOs and the large-scale, chemical-intensive, industrial corn and soybean operations that provide their feed grains. These consequences are not the result of a “few bad actors;” these are characteristic of an under-regulated “industry.” The environmental regulation of CAFOs has been largely ineffective because CAFO proponents have convinced lawmakers that CAFOs are farms, not factories, and farming is exempted from many environmental regulations. Meanwhile, the “right to farm” has resulted in about 800 officially reported manure spills in Iowa since 1995, and the number of polluted steams and water wells continue to grow. These are facts, not propaganda.

If CAFOs are havens for humane care of animals, why have CAFO proponents promoted “Ag Gag Laws” in virtually every significant livestock producing state? These laws make it a crime for anyone, including employees of CAFOs, to take pictures that document animal abuse or environmental violations. There would be no motive for Ag Gag Laws if animals in CAFOs were treated as well every day as they are when the public is invited for “breakfast on the farm” or when visiting politicians are brought through on public relations tours. Real farmers should be proud to have scenes from their farms video recorded and shown on YouTube. The cold, hard truth is that while animals may appear to be well-treated in some CAFOs some of the time, some animals are horribly abused in some operations some of the time, and all suffer from “unnatural confinement” all of the time.


Admittedly, major anti-CAFO initiatives have been mounted by mainstream animal protection organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Farm Sanctuary. These initiatives have focused on providing more space for animals in confinement systems. However, there is simply no way that massive numbers of animals can be treated humanely while in the large confinement facilities that typify CAFOs. Farm animals did not evolve to live in confinement any more so than humans evolved to live in prisons. There is simply no opportunity to afford farm animals the dignity and respect that must precede humane treatment when the animals are confined in large-scale concentrated feeding operations. Animals are sentient, feeling, living organisms or beings, not inanimate mechanisms. Real farmers treat animals with dignity and respect – even when they ultimately are to be used for human food.


In response to the propaganda, we must stress that we are not opposed to farmers or ranchers, but we are opposed to any system of production that threatens the health and well-being of both rural and urban Americans. The CAFO promoters are using “good people” to protect a “bad system.” Until now, most of our efforts have focused on issues of greatest concern to people in rural communities. To confront the new propaganda campaign, we must expand the perimeter of the battleground to embrace the growing concerns about broader issues, such an animal protection and public health. These are issues that affect everyone. These are the issues that have spurred CAFO proponents into their defensive strategies. These are the issues on which we can ultimately win the war against CAFOs. To win, we will need to build bridges between rural and urban America and go public with the growing concerns about CAFOs.

CAFOs: A Question of Constitutional Rights


by Dr. John Ikerd

Professor Emeritus, University of Missouri at Columbia


“CAFOs are legal, so I have a right to operate one.” This is the response CAFO operators often resort to when they can’t think of any other way to answer growing public concerns. It seems logical, on the surface, but it’s not necessarily so. It was once legal to own slaves, but no one has ever had a “right” to own another person. It was once illegal for women to vote, but women have always had a “right” to participate in the political processes of democracy. It was once legal to smoke in airplanes and public buildings, but smokers have never had a “right” to force others around them to breathe second-hand smoke. That fact that something is legal doesn’t give you a “right” to do it.


“There is nothing in the Constitution that limits my rights to operate a CAFO, as long as I don’t create a legal nuisance.” Again, this might seem a logical response to questions concerning the “rights” of CAFO operators. Again, it’s not necessarily so. The rights of the people of the United States are not limited to those rights explicitly named in the U.S. Constitution. In fact, Amendment 9 of the Constitution states: “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”


In other words, the framers of the Constitution did not attempt to enumerate all of the fundamental rights of US citizens. It clearly states that “other” rights, in addition to those named in the Constitution, were to be “retained by the people.” Some of those “other” rights were later encoded in the Constitution, such as the prohibition of slavery and women’s right to vote. Other unnamed rights have been interpreted by the courts to be covered by specific constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and religion and the right to privacy. Some un-enumerated rights are so well-established or obvious that they have never been seriously questioned, such as the rights of self-determination and self-defense.


The American Declaration Independence states: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.” The rights of self-determination and self-defense were not included in the Constitution because they were “self-evident.” The right of any person to determine for themselves when their health or well-being is being threatened and to take necessary actions to defend themselves against such threats are “self-evident truths.”


Our basic human rights to live, to make our own decisions, and a reasonable opportunity to find happiness are clearly among those “other” rights that are not enumerated in the Constitution, but nonetheless, are ensured by the 9th Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Slavery eventually was abolished by a constitutional amendment, at a time when slavery was critical to the US economy. In other cases, unnamed rights have been ensured through laws and regulations, such as those that regulate where people can and can’t smoke tobacco. In some cases, as I believe in the case of CAFOs, the basic human rights to self-defense, self-determination, and an opportunity to enjoy life are among those constitutional rights of all the people that remain as yet unclaimed.


What can be more important to the basic right to life than the right to clean air, clean water, and safe food? Stacks of public health research reports clearly link factory farms to a variety of respiratory illnesses in CAFO workers and their neighbors. CAFOs are also frequently linked to the pollution of neighbors’ drinking well water. Monitoring by the EPA and State Departments of Natural Resources (DNR), including the Iowa DNR, consistently find agricultural pollutants in streams that exceed drinking water standards. The World Health Organization has clearly linked contamination of animal food products with multiple-drug-resistant biological organisms to the routine use of antibiotics as growth promoters in CAFOs. A growing scientific consensus is identifying CAFOs as a threat to human health and potentially to life.


Americans also have a constitutional right to liberty, including self-determination. We don’t have to wait until we are shot or stabbed to resist an armed attack. In situations where a “reasonable person” would feel threatened, a person has a right to defend oneself. Despite the fact the evidence is compelling, defenders of industrial agriculture often argue there is not yet a “scientific consensus” that a “reasonable person” would feel their health or life could be threatened by a CAFOs, although the evidence is compelling. This is what I call “the tobacco defense.” The tobacco industry argued for decades that there was no “scientific consensus” linking tobacco smoking to public health risks, although their own research indicated otherwise. In the case of CAFOs, the right of self-determination is being denied.


In the case of tobacco, the health and lives of millions of people likely were sacrificed because people failed to claim their rights of self-defense and self-determination. However, people at least had an opportunity to move away from smokers, although it might have meant giving up commercial air travel and eating in most restaurants. Moving away from a CAFO often means that neighbors must give up their homes or even the opportunity to live outside of a protected municipality.


Americans have a basic human right to the opportunity for a decent quality of life, to the pursuit of happiness, without being forced to flee their once-decent neighborhoods. Current nuisance laws are based on the premise that CAFOs operators have a right to pursue their economic interests unless their neighbors can prove otherwise. Instead, CAFO operators should be required to prove they are not denying the rights of their neighbors’ constitutional right to a living environment sufficiently clean and healthful to afford a desirable quality of life.


The Declaration of Independence clearly states that governments are established for the purpose of securing such rights. However, if the government fails to fulfill its responsibility, the Constitution gives “the people” the power to do so. The 10th Amendment to the Constitution states that “The Powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people [emphasis added].”


In my personal opinion, the states have failed to protect our constitutional rights of self-determination and self-defense in the case of CAFOs. This means it’s up to “we the people” to find other responsible means of claiming our God-given constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.


Dr. John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics at the University of Missouri, Columbia, has enjoyed a 30-year academic career at four Land Grant Universities. He has authored four books and received many honors for his work in agricultural economics.


This article first appeared in the JFAN Fall/Winter 2015 Newsletter.


What Happened to Our Rights?


The following is JFAN’s opinion based on working with rural communities for over ten years.

All across the state, Iowans make a disheartening discovery when presented with an unwanted factory farm. We learn CAFO owners have a legal right to build a confinement regardless of our wishes and concerns. We learn they typically ignore the good neighbor guidelines published by the Iowa Pork Association.

We learn that their economic rights can take precedence over our basic human right to clean air, clean water, and the peaceful enjoyment of our homes and property.

We learn that there are few avenues open to us to stop an unwanted CAFO. That an individual –and their corporate supplier – have greater power than rural residents who want to protect their families, homes and neighborhoods.

We learn that we are second-class citizens to powerful industrial livestock interests, and we just don’t matter to them.

The Iowa State Legislature revoked local control for factory farms in 1995. The welfare of communities is now decided on the state level in Des Moines, which supports industrial agriculture over the rights of rural residents. Bowing to the heavy influence of the corporate livestock industry, the legislature passes laws that primarily favor the growth and expansion of corporate agriculture without adequate protections for Iowans or ability to weigh in on what we feel is best for our families and communities.

As Iowans we have the traditional right to do what we want on our property – as long it causes no harm to our neighbors. Fifty years of respected peer-reviewed studies easily document numerous damages factory farms can inflict on people and communities. Health problems from asthma and antibiotic resistant infections, water pollution from manure runoff and spills, compromised quality of life from noxious odors and fly infestations, rural degradation from crumbling roads to lost businesses all cause great harm to neighbors of factory farms.

It’s time for us to matter.

It’s time for us to reclaim our basic human right to a healthy, safe, and peaceful quality of life. It’s time for individual and community rights to take precedence over the unrestrained economic growth of the powerful corporate livestock industry.

There are things you can do. Learn about them here. 


The Iowa LLC Loophole

​By Diane Rosenberg, President and Executive Director

There is a concerning trend occurring in Jefferson County and around the state. CAFO owners are getting around permitting and Master Matrix thresholds by constructing multiple confinements side by side in different LLC (limited liability corporation) names. This can occur as a new set of facilities or as an expansion to an existing CAFO.

We’ve seen this transpire in Jefferson County between a married couple, business partners, and relatives. Most cases involve two 2480-head CAFOs constructed under different LLC’s. But we’ve also seen a similar instance involving two 1200-head hog confinements that is particularly troubling.

Factory farms under 500 animal units – 1250 hogs – do not have to file manure management plans (MMPs) nor do they have to adhere to separation distances from homes and other public areas, although some distances are required from water sources. Neighbors conceivably could have CAFOs built within a few hundred feet of their homes. Since there is no MMP, we don’t know where manure is applied. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) can’t track these CAFOs since no paperwork is submitted.

Several DNR field officers have told JFAN this practice is rampant around the state. It’s not hard to see this could be a problem for neighborhoods and for water quality.

This loophole exists for two reasons. First, according to Iowa law, the legal owner of a CAFO is the LLC, not the individual(s) behind it.

The second factor is how Common Management is defined and applied. CAFOs that fall under the definition of Common Management must be a half-mile apart otherwise they are regulated as one larger facility. Common Management, as defined by the Iowa Code, means that one person has a significant amount of control over the day-to-day operations of the facility. Since contract growers receive detailed instructions from the corporation on how to raise the hogs, the corporation is the manager.

However, according to a DNR official, when Northwest Iowa began to crowd with CAFOs, it became difficult to find enough land to separate the confinements by a half-mile and have them regulated as single CAFOs. The State Legislature then changed the definition to exclude situations where CAFO owners contract with corporations. The definition now only applies to a corporation-owned facility that hires employees to run it.

It’s clear that the law must be amended in order to address a loophole that allows too many CAFOs to skirt laws that were put in place to regulate them. The place to start is by contacting your elected officials and urging them to fix this loophole that puts the agribusiness interests before community and environmental well-being.

bottom of page