Fairfield Ledger

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 25, 2018

Crowd turns out to talk CAFOs

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Sep 06, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Iowa Sen. David Johnson (I-Ocheyedan) speaks to the crowd gathered Wednesday night in the Cambridge Room at Fairfield Arts & Convention Center. Johnson pointed to a map of Iowa that showed the location of confined animal feeding operations. CAFOs, as they are commonly abbreviated, are plentiful in northwest Iowa where Johnson is from. Johnson was invited to speak at the meeting because of his involvement in crafting CAFO regulation in the Iowa House of Representatives and later in the Iowa Senate.

A few hundred people packed into the Cambridge Room of the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center Wednesday night for a meeting about a proposed hog confinement in Jefferson County.

The meeting was scheduled to begin at 7:15 p.m., but people kept pouring in that it had to be delayed a few minutes for more chairs to be brought in. It became so packed that convention center staff had to remove one of the walls, and even more chairs were set up in the atrium.

The event was a joint effort between two groups, Pleasant Plain Friends for Rural Preservation and Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors Inc. It was convened to address the planned 7,497-head hog confinement that will be 2.5 miles west of Pleasant Plain on land known as the Daniels Site. Once built, it will be the county’s largest confined animal feeding operation (CAFO). Bill Huber, owner of Huber Slats, will own the CAFO.

Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting heard from three featured speakers, and then the public was invited to come to the microphone to make a statement or ask questions. Each member of the public was given three minutes to speak.

The three featured speakers were: Diane Rosenberg, JFAN president and executive director; Jocelyn Engman, co-founder of Pleasant Plain Friends for Rural Preservation; and Iowa Sen. David Johnson, an independent from Ocheyedan, a town of 490 people near Okoboji in northwest Iowa.

Johnson was invited to speak because of his role in drafting the original Master Matrix in 2002. The Master Matrix is a scoring system for proposed CAFOs. CAFO owners earn points for taking steps that reduce the CAFO’s impact on the environment and surrounding property owners. The county board of supervisors scores the CAFO on the Master Matrix and gives it either a passing or failing grade, and that grade is sent to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, which has final approval.

Jefferson County and 88 other counties participate in the Master Matrix. The Jefferson County Board of Supervisors gave Huber’s CAFO a passing grade on its Master Matrix.

Three counties that border Jefferson County do not participate in the Master Matrix, and they are Keokuk, Wapello and Washington counties.

Johnson said the Master Matrix is good but not good enough at mitigating the adverse effects of CAFOs. This past legislative session, he introduced a bill in the Iowa Senate to halt the expansion of existing CAFOs and stop new ones from being built. The bill was not passed.

Johnson advised county governments to take an active role in regulating CAFOs.

He said of the Matrix that “It is a tool, but it’s not a tool if you don’t use it.”

Johnson said efforts to control CAFOs have been ineffective. For instance, he talked about his role in setting up the Environmental Protection Commission, a panel of nine citizens who provide policy oversight on Iowa’s environmental protection efforts. EPC members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by a vote of the Senate.

The nine-member panel was originally designed to have three members who are working farmers. However, Johnson said that, through political appointments, the panel has become dominated by what he called “Big Ag.”

One of the other speakers, Engman, lives on a farm less than 2 miles from the proposed CAFO on the Daniels Site. Engman said she’s not the kind of person to get involved in politics or be confrontational, but she felt she had no choice on this issue.

She said many rural Iowans have provided testimony on how living near a CAFO lowered their quality of life to the point they had to move, and she didn’t want to be faced with the same choice. She noted that she’s not against raising animals for meat, but that it should be done in a responsible way.

“I love pork chops and tenderloins, too, and they’re pasture-raised,” she said. “I just ask the Iowa Legislature to stop championing CAFOs over our health. I want to win back the rights of Iowans so this is a land people want to live in.”

Rosenberg pleaded with the supervisors to do everything in their power to hold CAFOs to a high standard.

“They have a voice and they can use it,” Rosenberg said. “Other counties’ supervisors have been a voice for a better ag system, and ours can, too.”

During public comment time, 2017 Fairfield High School graduate Mitchell Taglauer offered another perspective. He asked the audience, “How many of you value a college education?” Taglauer said he has been able to put himself through Des Moines Area Community College by working at a CAFO.

Another member of the audience, Jeff Shipley, said the solution to CAFOs is local control. However, he said the problem is that many people who favor local control on CAFOs don’t favor it on other issues, and that’s not right.

“We have to be consistent,” he said.


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