Two years ago this week the Iowa Policy Project published our paper on industrial hog facilities: The Explosion of CAFOs in Iowa and Its Impact on Water Quality and Public Health.
We showed the industry’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) were responsible for manure leaks and spills, fish kills, nitrate and ammonia pollution, antibiotic-hormone and bacterial contamination, algae blooms, impaired waterways and closed beaches.
Most important to both of us, as emeritus professors in Public Health, was that CAFO neighbors suffer increased childhood asthma and adult asthma, bronchitis, airway obstruction, nasal and eye irritation. Animal agriculture still consumes, largely for growth promotion, over 70 percent of medically important antibiotics. This practice promotes antibiotic resistant infections.
CAFO neighbors also suffer odor-associated increases in stress, tension, depression, confusion, less vigor, and decreases in measures of quality-of-life and well-being. And, CAFO neighbor property values, depending on distance and prevailing winds, decrease 20-40 percent.
We called for a moratorium on new facilities, a position with growing support. The American Public Health Association’s Governing Council’s called in November 2019 for a national moratorium on new or expanded CAFOs, citing their “threat to air quality, drinking water and human health” and to “stop using medically important antibiotics in healthy animals.”
A poll from the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future finds that a majority of registered Iowa voters support a moratorium.
- Sixty-three percent (81 percent of Democrats, 60 percent of independents, and 51 percent of Republicans) deemed it important for the General Assembly to pass legislation to ban new CAFOs or expand existing CAFOs.
- Eight in 10 of those surveyed expressed concern about the threat of water and/or air pollution on CAFO workers and nearby communities.
- A majority (51 percent) agreed that CAFOs contribute a “significant amount” to water pollution, and 49 percent agreed that CAFOs contribute significantly to air pollution in nearby communities.
On Thursday, January 23, the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture (IARA) and other advocates for a moratorium on new or expanded CAFOs will be rallying at the State Capitol. It is clear they have science, the future and the public on their side. The General Assembly must decide if those constituencies outweigh the wishes of industrial agriculture.
James Merchant is Professor Emeritus of Public Health and Medicine and Founding Dean Emeritus of the College of Public Health.
David Osterberg is Professor Emeritus of Public Health and co-founder of the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.