Finding balance to protect all Iowans

David Osterberg

David Osterberg

People seem to like the idea of balance. It should remind us of a teeter totter. When weights are equal the equipment is horizontal.

But with policy, the balance is not always equal. Some have more influence and get their end of the teeter totter closer to the ground. So it is with many angles of public policy in Iowa. State law is biased toward agriculture, food producers and other industrial or corporate interests that have the right connections.

The Iowa City Press-Citizen quoted me in an August 8 editorial on the recent cyclospora outbreak. The newspaper thought the Iowa Department of Public Health should have worried more about people eating contaminated food rather than protecting the image of the companies that served it to them.

Pre-packaged salad mix was the source of the microorganism culprit, which made many people in Iowa and Nebraska very sick. Good epidemiology by Iowa and federal health officials led to the discovery of the source but once it was found, state law prevented the release of what company produced the contaminated greens and which chain restaurants served it to their customers.

I told the newspaper that the protectors of public health were engaged in balancing the need of citizens to know vs. the bad publicity that could come to the purveyors of the contaminated food. And I said that the balance was biased toward the needs of industry.

This is not unusual.

If a worker takes pictures of animal abuse in a factory producing meat products, a crime might be committed. But in our now-tortured notion of the public interest, the worker/whistleblower may be considered the criminal, not the company that may have used inhumane procedures that offend Iowa values.

Likewise, the new Iowa strategy to reduce the amount of nitrate pollution in our rivers will require cities to spend the money to make a small reduction while farm interests which are 90 percent of the problem will be encouraged, not required, to reduce their pollution. When a new hog producing facility decides to come into a rural neighborhood, the neighbors have few rights to protect their air and water, and the producer has the upper hand.

Food and agriculture policy in Iowa is out of balance. Lawmakers should be more concerned about protecting Iowans’ fundamental values and their health, and let big industry fend for itself.

Posted by David Osterberg, Founding Director

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