Letter to the Editor

What is your definition of a good neighbor?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

I am writing in response to Dr. Kyle Coble’s letter of 7/11/17: “We Are Your Neighbors.”

Dr. Coble stated in his letter that “The actual editorial pieces are campaigning against manure management and hog farming, citing New Fashion Pork as the aggressor.”

My campaign as a concerned citizen of Dickinson County lies with the lack of regulation of manure management and the growing number of CAFOs in our county and state that are also unregulated. When concerned citizens brought up the lack of regulations at a recent meeting with NFP, Jay Moore, Director of Environmental Services at NFP, expressed that he was as surprised as anyone at the regulations.

Hog farming has been a way of life in Iowa for years, I have nothing against it as long as it is done in a socially responsible manner with accountability to the impact it has on neighbors, animals and the environment.

NFP is definitely the aggressor in this instance. They have been repeatedly asked not to build in this area yet they continue to do so. The three nursery facilities they are building north of the Superior area are examples of this aggression. NFP withdrew an application for a CAFO in the same area because of community concerns in 2015 only to turn around and begin construction on these three facilities. Because of their size, (500 animal units, or 4400 head of pigs under 55 pounds which are rotated every six weeks) these nurseries aren’t regulated under the Master Matrix. They do not need a manure management plan and an application is not provided to the county supervisors. The really distressing part of this construction is that NFP stated they would never put facilities in this area because of the close proximity to residences. This seems particularly aggressive to me.

Dr. Coble also states that “Declining property values, polluted waterways and lost business revenues from being downwind of the ‘factory farms’ have all been bulleted points that claim that animal agriculture, NFP specifically, is negatively impacting the economy and ecology in Dickinson County.”

Here are some facts:

A CSU study of Iowa properties showed that property values of residences may drop up to 40 percent near factory farms.

Polluted Waterways: (These statistics are from the DNR)

There are 751 impaired waterways in Iowa with 1,062 impairments – Iowa Draft 2016 list of Section 303(d)

There were 800 reported manure spills between 1996 and 2012.

There were 4,464,257 fish killed by animal waste – 1995-2016 (DNR fish kill data base)

A majority of spills and fish kills are during manure pumping, hauling and land application.

Increased truck traffic from tractor-trailers break down community roads, fuel taxes don’t cover the cost to repair these roads: http://archive.gao.gov/f0302/109884.pdf (scroll down to see the report).

Odor and Health: Children attending school near CAFOs may have a higher incidence of asthma. (Asthma symptoms among adolescents attending public schools located near confined swine feeding operations. Pediatrics, 118(1): e66-75. Maria C. Mirabelli, PhD, Steve Wing, PhD, and Stephen Marshall, PhD, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public Health and Timothy C. Wilcosky, PhD, Environmental Health and Epidemiology Program, RTI International, 2006. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16818539)

Dr. Coble also states: “There is no such thing as a small farmer's exemption in Iowa. Regulations are based on the number of animals, not the size of the farming operation.”

No MMP, CDS, or separation distances, except from some water sources, are required for the three NFP CAFOs going in north of Superior since they are under 500/4400 pigs animal units. THAT is the exemption.

Also, any CAFO owner can apply for a pollution tax exemption for the square footage of their manure pits – this is a property tax exemption that is subsidized by all the other agricultural landowners in the county (Iowa code 427.1(19).

Another exemption that NFP benefits from is found in County Ordinance 102 Section 2: “FARMS EXEMPT.” In compliance with Section 335.2, Code of Iowa, no regulation or restriction adopted under this ordinance shall apply to land, buildings or structures which are primarily used for agricultural purposes. This allows NFP to build without county regulation.

Another statement from Dr. Coble says “New Fashion Pork is not required by law to notify anyone of those facilities based on the barn's size. But as residents of the area (born and raised and residing in Jackson, Minnesota — 18 miles away from here — not quite the out-of-state conglomerates Mr. Miller claims), they were transparent with county officials, residents and elected state officials about their plans.”

NFP has never been transparent with residents. The only way residents are ever made aware that NFP will be impacting our neighborhood is through the county auditor, whom we have to call weekly to get information, or through a small notice in the local shopper or a sign posted on the courthouse. NFP has never directly contacted, emailed, phoned or written to myself or any of my neighbors advising us of their plans to significantly alter our community. A good neighbor would do this.

Dr. Coble continues “New Fashion Pork was started by Dr. Brad and Meg Freking. Brad and Meg grew up on farms in Jackson, Minnesota. After college, Brad purchased his childhood family hog farm in Jackson County, and as a portrait of the American Dream over 20 years, they built a business that now supports 400 families.”

It's very nice that they have been so diligent. Frankly, I am tired of the "small town boy makes good with family owned farming operation" angle that is in all of the marketing that NFP does. NFP doesn't "farm" or "raise hogs in the manner of 20 years past." NFP uses an industrial/corporate model that is harmful to people and the environment. This is based on 50 years of respected, peer reviewed, scientific research that documents the harms CAFOs impart on water quality, air quality, public health, rural economics, quality of life and food safety.

Dr. Coble expounds further, “Not only did they build a business here, they raised their boys in Jackson. They spend their weekends on Big Spirit or Okoboji Lake. For the Fourth of July, they sat on West Boji with their family, battling mosquitos and rain to see the fireworks show.”

That is what I cannot seem to rationalize: the disconnect the activists writing these letters have about our role in the community. “We live here. We work here. We send our kids to school here. We fish in the lake and drink the tap water. We pay taxes, contribute to charity, vote, sit next to you at the patio of local restaurants or in church. We are not some far flung corporate giant, carelessly usurping local resources. This is our home. We are stewards of this land. We are your neighbors.”

The people who oppose these CAFOs are lifelong rural farmers and residents. Parents and grandparents who are concerned about the impact on their loved ones. If this is being an activist, then I will gladly take on the role and title and will continue to speak out. NFP is not a good neighbor. Being a good neighbor is respecting that people's health and quality of life can be severely impacted by people living near CAFOs. There is a woman living near the Guge site that has a life-threatening allergy to pig dander of which NFP was made aware. Being a good neighbor is respecting the environmentally sensitive area in which you are building based on the county zoning map and the effect the millions of gallons of manure will have on the water that is already in a state of crisis in our state. Being a good neighbor is listening to people when they tell you they don't want a CAFO near their home.

Finally Dr. Coble states, “I do not stand behind the propaganda machine that has become the Dickinson County political community. I am disappointed that here in America's heartland we have become so negligent of the truth. As a result, I humbly invite any of my neighbors to join us for an open house (press release to follow) where we will walk through the science of hog farming. I welcome the opportunity to get to know you personally, to teach you more about where your bacon comes from and to put to rest any fears you have about our livelihood might impact your lifestyle.”

As far as the Dickinson County political community, I wish to applaud the supervisors of our county for allowing citizens a voice in this issue. They are one of the few counties that do. As a concerned citizen, I have written senators, representatives and the governor about this issue and will continue to do so until industrial agriculture is regulated in the way that it should be in our state. I have educated myself on this topic and my views are based on facts, not propaganda.

NFP ships much of its pork to China. So how is it possible to show me where my bacon comes from? I know where my bacon comes from thank you — pasture-raised pigs from a good neighbor.

Diane Benjamin