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Wide Ranging Testimony at “The People’s Hearing”

An Indisputable Case Made for a Factory Farm Moratorium

by Diane Rosenberg | Executive Director

"Our enjoyment of life crashed."

"We, the neighbors of livestock

confinements, are in a sacrifice zone."

"We deserve basic rights as an Iowa citizens."

"63% of the people in this state want a moratorium."

Community members, farmers, and experts had plenty to say about factory farm harms at The People’s Hearing on June 18 in Ames. Testifiers from around the state provided solid arguments supporting the immediate enactment of a factory farm moratorium. The Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture organized the event.

You can watch individual presentations or the entire event on the IARA YouTube page.

Food & Water Watch senior organizer John Aspray said moratorium bills have been introduced every year since 2017, but legislators have prevented even so much as a fair subcommittee public hearing from taking place—preventing any legislative discussions or votes on the proposals.

All testimony was presented before three judges: Senator Claire Celsi, filling in for Representative Art Staed who was under the weather, Professor Silvia Secchi of the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences at University of Iowa, and Dr. Francis Thicke, co-owner of Radiance Dairy, soil scientist, and JFAN board member.

Community members kicked off the testimony. Among them, Joyce Otto, a retired nurse from Poweshiek County, shared how a 5,000 head Prestage CAFO forced her to close down her home-based eldercare business. “The odors were sometimes so heavy that you would just stop breathing. Now that was a survival instinct when your own bodies say stop breathing – this is toxic.”

A statement from Jefferson County resident Joel Brezner read by JFAN Executive Director Diane Rosenberg pointed out wealthier neighborhoods are less prone to CAFOs. Speaking about a 2480-head CAFO Larry Angstead built in 2016 near Brezner’s home he wrote, “The owner also had another plot several miles away from us, but he said he couldn’t build it there because it was close to a country club, and that those people would not let him do it, meaning, ‘the rich have clout, but ordinary people just have to live with it.’”

Farmers spoke about the way CAFOs affected their farming operations. Iowa Farmers Union board member and beginning farmer Tommy Hexter produces vegetables and herbs. He spoke of the values farmers like him uphold and how the industrialized system makes it hard to farm according to those values–opportunity, environmental stewardship and rural community development. “I’m here today to testify against CAFOs on the grounds that they have committed the crime of stripping farmers of their choice to uphold their values with their farming practices.”

Traditional hog farmer and Socially Responsible Agricultural Project senior regional organizer Chris Petersen lamented the loss of independent hog farms over the last 50 years “Independent pig farmers –92% of us are gone. The only reason I survive is because I do niche marketing. They’ve destroyed the market.”

Numerous experts offered compelling testimony including Joann Muldoon, a retired epidemiologist and member of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom. She spoke on public health risks including the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. “At the rate we’re going, an estimated 10 million Americans, those who are most vulnerable in our population, will die from antibiotic resistant microbial germs by 2050.”

David Osterberg, Professor Emeritus at the University of Iowa Department of Public Health added, “The whole question of antibiotic resistance means that all of us, whether or not we are even remotely close to one of these facilities, is at risk.”

“Ever heard of ‘follow the money’?” began Patrick Bosold speaking on corporate political donations for Move to Amend. “HF 519 [the 1995 law that eliminated local control] was bought and paid for by special interest money. Ag land was exempted from local control, and whammo, the flood gates were open to confinements and the rest is history.”

Money in politics is “the least apparent issue and it’s probably the one that affects the outcome the most,” he said. Bosold urged support of the We the People constitutional amendment that would regulate financing political campaigns and remove corporate personhood. “There are solutions,” he said.

Additional testifiers included Cherie Mortice, president of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action, on municipalities dealing with water pollution, Sikowiss Nobiss, co-founder of Great Plains Action Society, who laid out the historical impact of hog production on indigenous communities, and Iowa Farm Sanctuary co-founder Shawn Camp on the suffering that confined livestock endures.

After the testimonies, judges commented on presented evidence. Since the growing divisiveness at the State House makes it difficult to work across the aisles, Senator Celsi urged advocates to contact legislators in their districts. “As much as you can get to them at home the better because I can’t get to them.”

She also offered the following advice. “They listen to a few groups. So moving forward I really wish the strategy would target these groups a little more. That’s who they get their information from. The Farm Bureau–that’s the king. The Family Leader, Iowa Association of Business and Industry, and the Chamber Alliance.“

Professor Secchi called the industry’s solution to climate change, capturing methane with digesters, green washing.

“Don’t listen to those who say we can just do technological fixes at the end of the pipe, and that will solve the structural injustices and environmental problems that this fundamentally unbalanced and unjust system created. Be enraged that people with scientific credentials, for 30 pieces of silver, are selling their scientific credibility and telling you that that’s going to solve the problem.”

Dr. Thicke commented on the industry’s influence in the state legislature, “This is what is called regulatory capture–when powerful interest groups can get legislators to create laws and regulations that favor them. We know that money speaks loudly but we know that people speak loudly too. We can speak loudly. We need a lot of us to do that. “

The meeting wrapped up with action steps. Building power, expanding IARA and individual organizations, sharing knowledge with family and friends, contacting legislators, writing letters, and keeping the issue in the public awareness with signage were all recommended.

At the end of the meeting, Aspray reflected, “I would say the verdict is pretty clear. It sounds like we need a factory farm moratorium.”


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