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Public Comments Made by Drs. John Ikerd and Francis Thicke at RWP, LLC Public Hearing

Drs. John Ikerd and Francis Thicke, both JFAN board members, made the following comments at the RWP Public hearing on Tuesday, August 28, These comments were made as private citizens and not as JFAN board member, but we wanted to share them with you. 



FRANCIS THICKE: There are some things we hold sacred in this country. They are expressed in the Declaration of Independence as the inalienable rights of Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The pursuit of happiness certainly should include the right to not have our health and quality of life destroyed by another person’s business model. 

Make no mistake about it: many Iowa citizens have had their health and quality of life severely compromised when CAFOs moved into their neighborhoods. Published studies in peer-reviewed scientific journals have documented the detrimental health effects of living near CAFOs. When I served a four-year term on the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission I heard many first-hand accounts of how people’s lives were turned upside down when a CAFOs moved into their neighborhood. Some had to seal their houses airtight. Some had to live in their basements. Quite a number have had to abandon their homes completely and move elsewhere. These are serious infringements on people’s rights as citizens. How can we allow this to happen in Iowa?

The Iowa Legislature has failed its rural citizens by caving in to the demands of lobbyists from the Farm Bureau and the pork industry and taking away local control over the siting of CAFOs. The Master Matrix is a sham. Only 50% of the Master Matrix points are required to pass, and nearly every CAFO takes the same easy points. 

What are some of the easy points? The Master Matrix gives 30 points for the liquid manure storage structure having a “cover” and 30 points for the manure storage structure being “formed.” That is the way CAFOs are built, with a concrete basement for the manure (formed) and with the building on top (the cover). That gives 60 points just for being a CAFO.

When have we ever seen a CAFO include a biofilter to filter out the noxious gases? The Master Matrix allows 10 points for a biofilter. Research shows that a biofilter will reduce toxic gases and odors by 80 to 90%. A windbreak to contain toxic gases and odors is worth 20 points? We rarely see CAFO biofilters and windbreaks in a Master Matrix scoring because the Master Matrix offers too many other easy points. CAFO owners don’t want to earn points for things that protect their neighbors because those things cost money, and CAFO owners are in it to make money, not to protect their neighbors. 

CAFO owners hire consultants—like the one that wrote the Master Matrix for this CAFO and the Huber CAFO—to write their Master Matrix applications because those consultants know how to game the system and pass the Master Matrix with all the easy points.

One of the Jefferson County Supervisors recently said in a letter to the editor that if the supervisors take away points that the DNR disagrees with, the DNR will take away the county’s ability to use the Master Matrix. That is false. That has never happened. If the DNR disagrees with a county scoring and reinstates Master Matrix points that county supervisors have denied, the county can appeal those points with the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission. It happened a number of times when I was on the EPC.

Increasingly, county boards across Iowa are recognizing that the Master Matrix is a sham, and some counties are becoming stricter in their scoring of Master Matrix points. Some county boards have even refused to pass a Master Matrix application that scores enough points, because they are interested in protecting the rights of their citizens over the profits of CAFO owners. I urge the Jefferson County Supervisors to also take a stronger stand. County supervisors are in a position to signal to the Iowa Legislature that this sham has gone on long enough, and that major changes are needed. 

Eventually, after enough people have been harmed, after enough people have had their rights trampled over, Iowa citizens will rise up to end this CAFO charade. In the meantime, we have to do what we can to protect ourselves. County boards of supervisors can either lead the charge or wither in fear of offending CAFO owners and the agricultural status quo.


DR. JOHN IKERD: I am John Ikerd. I live in Fairfield. I attended the county Supervisors session where Diane Rosenberg expressed concerns about shortcomings in the Master Matrix under consideration this evening. She raised legitimate questions about enough points to fail the Master Matrix, and I support her recommendation for rejection. However, my primary concern is the defensive attitude that the county supervisors seemed to take during these sessions and others I have attended that relate to CAFOs. 


First, I want to make clear that I am expressing my personal opinions as a resident and taxpayer of Jefferson County. I am a member of the Board of Directors of JFAN and I am a retired professor of agricultural economics but I am speaking this evening for myself—not anyone else. Over the past 25 years I have had a variety of personal and professional experiences with people living near CAFOs and in CAFO communities across the country. The only real defense most people living in rural areas have against the environmental, public health, and quality of life threats posed by CAFOs is their government. Our state and federal government regulations of CAFOs are very minimal. So we have to rely on our local government officials to do everything within their power to protect the health and well-being of the people living in this community. 


However, in this and other Master Matrix scoring sessions, our county supervisors seem to consistently defend the scoring provided by the CAFO applicant rather than seriously consider the concerns presented by JFAN and other local residents. It’s as if the CAFO operators and the consultants are experts and the rest of us are just uninformed, naïve, “city folks,” who know little if anything about farming or CAFOs. 


I assure you, this attitude is not justified and it is not acceptable. Some of the most knowledgeable and well-informed people I have ever met are the people opposing CAFOs. The information documenting the negative environmental, public health, and quality of life impacts of CAFOs are readily available on the internet—and the documents include refereed articles in scientific journals and reports by major universities and public health institutions. The people defending themselves against CAFOs have powerful motives to inform themselves, and they do.


The responsibility of public officials is to protect and defend the public interest. The private interests of individuals and corporations must be considered, but the economic interests of those operating CAFOs cannot be allowed to take priority over the public interest of those in the community as a whole. That’s what democracy and capitalism are all about: a competitive economy functioning within the bounds of an equitable and just society. It is up to our local government to do everything within its power to enforce those bounds.

Francis Thicke
John Ikerd
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