If you’ve driven around Iowa, you may have noticed row after row of long metal buildings. These are factory farms run by giant corporations like Cargill, Smithfield, and Tyson Foods.

A land that was once populated by thousands of independent family farms, is now populated with over 10,000 factory farms — operations that pack thousands of animals into one building in order to maximize profits for Big Ag.

While these profits look good in a spreadsheet, they come with a horrific cost to our communities.

These factory farms create over 22 billion gallons of toxic liquid manure that is dumped untreated onto farm fields across the state, increasing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in our waters. Now Iowa has some of the most polluted water in the country, with over 760 impaired waterways, tens of thousands of contaminated wells, and an almost 50% contribution to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Pollution that everyday Iowans are forced to foot the bill to clean up. Despite this, the state and factory farm industry have continued to advocate for the current voluntary nutrient reduction strategy.

Our 3-Prong Strategy

To address factory farm and environmental issues and stand up for clean air, water, family farmers, and a decent quality of life for everyday Iowans, the Farm & Environment team centers our work around these three strategies.

  1. Engage in local organizing campaigns to stand up for clean air and water, and slow down factory farms from building and expanding. This helps us get local people involved and active and keeps pressure on the Iowa DNR, state policymakers, and factory farm owners/developers.
  2. Push for stronger statewide enforcement of existing laws and regulations. Together we can ensure that stiffer fines and penalties are being issued and Clean Water Act inspections and permits are being given by the Iowa DNR.
  3. Push for stronger statewide policies, rules, and regulations. We do this be organizing for local control, stronger permitting standards, stronger water and air quality standards, fairer tax policies so factory farms pay their fair share, increased separation distances to protect our communities, and a mandatory strategy to clean up our water (versus the failed voluntary program we currently have).

Want to learn more about how you can get involved? Are you concerned about water quality? Is there a factory farm trying to build in your community and you want help fighting back? We can help! Contact us at iowacci@iowacci.org.

Clean Water Lawsuit

The Public Trust Doctrine guarantees the public’s right to use and enjoy navigable waters. Iowans have a right to clean water and, under this Doctrine, the state has a duty to protect that right but they have failed time and time again. Instead of providing mandatory measures, the state continues to push for a voluntary nutrient reduction strategy (NRS) which has resulted in the clean water crisis Iowa has today.

With the current voluntary strategy we have, it will take up to 913 years to reach just the first goal of the NRS.

We need a mandatory nutrient reduction strategy that incentivizes farmers to implement a variety of practices that work for them and, requires polluters, not Iowa taxpayers, to clean up this mess.

The Raccoon River alone is the source of recreation and drinking water for over 500,000 Iowans. Des Moines Water Works, the largest utility in Iowa, has one of the most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world because the utility has struggled to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines residents and other utilities who buy their water.

That is why we, along with Food & Water Watch, filed a clean water lawsuit against the State of Iowa early last year charging the state for violating it’s duty to protect our right to clean water. We are sick and tired of being told that the interests of everyday Iowans – our drinking water, our health, and our enjoyment of public waters – must be compromised for corporate ag and other industries’ profits.

This lawsuit is a wake up call to force the state to act, and now we are taking our case to the Iowa Supreme Court. Stay tuned for updates on our lawsuit and clean water work.

Moratorium Campaign

Our moratorium campaign works to stop the exploitative system of corporate ag and the factory farm industry through local campaigns, fighting for tougher enforcement, and better policies. There is growing support in Iowa for a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms. A 2019 poll of voting Iowans showed 63% support a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. And 1 in 4 Iowa counties have passed resolutions calling on the state legislature to take action for a moratorium and stronger protections from the factory farm industry.

Iowans— across party lines—want good paying jobs, clean water and air, and vibrant communities. They don’t want polluting hog factories with a limited number of low paying jobs, with profits going to giant corporations. Factory farms are out of control in Iowa and the industry continues to expand at an alarming rate. State leaders need to put people and the planet before corporate profits, politics and polluters. This is why we need a moratorium.

Still not convinced? Here are the top 10 reasons for a moratorium.

Are you interested in passing a moratorium resolution in your county? Has a factory farm application come through and you want to organize your community to stop it? Contact us at iowacci@iowacci.org.

Ways To Take Action

Public Money for the Public Good Campaign

Public money should be used for the public good — invested in people and communities, not corporations. But recently Smithfield Foods hijacked $10 million of our public dollars for a manure-to-energy scheme. That ain’t right.

View our Public Money for the Public Good petition to learn more and add your name in support.

Interested in getting involved in our Clean Water & Factory Farms work? Contact us at iowacci@iowacci.org.

  1. Iowa has over 10,000 factory farms. In the last 5 years, the DNR found over 5,000 “unknown” facilities and 400-500 additional sites are built each year.
  2. Iowa has 26 million corporate owned hogs that produce over 22 billion gallons of untreated liquid manure and raw feces. According to recent studies, Iowa produces the most waste per square mile than any other state in the country.
  3. This waste is dumped untreated on fields across that state. Meanwhile, commercial fertilizer rates have stayed the same, meaning that double and sometimes triple the amount of nitrates are being applied, saturating farm fields across the state.
  4. Runoff from factory farm manure releases pollutants into our air and water, polluting Iowa’s 767 already impaired waterways.
  5. Time is of the essence. Climate change reports indicate that as temperatures increase so too will be likelihood of toxic blue green algae outbreaks that plague our beaches.
  6. Factory farms are a public health hazard, especially for populations with weakened immune systems such as children or older adults. A recent study found that high level of nitrates in Iowa’s drinking water contributes to over 300 cases of cancer annually in the state.
  7. Manure from factory farms emit substantial amounts of toxic air pollutants. Residents living near factory farms experience increased rates of asthma. Due to this increasing threat to public health, the American Public Health Association recently endorsed a nationwide moratorium on all new and expanding factory farms.
  8. Iowans don’t like factory farms. 1 in 4 counties have passed resolutions pushing the state to act by calling for a moratorium on new and expanded factory farms, local control, and/or a complete overhaul to the current system. According to survey by Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future, 63% of Iowans think the state legislature should pass a proposal banning the construction of new CAFOs and the expansion of existing CAFOs.
  9. Factory farms are an economic drain on communities. Large corporate-owned factory farms extract profits and leave us with the pollution, lower property values, and ruin our quality of life. What we really need are independent family farms who buy locally, grow locally, and sell locally.
  10. We believe in an agricultural system that works for farmers, workers, eaters, and the environment. Our food and farm system belong in the hands of independent family farmers not under the control of a handful of giant corporations. The first step towards a better system of agriculture is a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms.

Talk to your county supervisors about passing a moratorium resolution. This non-binding resolution will send a powerful message to elected officials at the state level that everyday folks want a moratorium!

Disclaimer: This 3-part web series only scratches the surface on how racism and white supremacy is embedded in every aspect of our current food and farm system. While not all-encompassing, this blog and webinar series serves as a starting point and provides some clarity regarding how our call for a better food & farm system is deeply intertwined with ongoing calls for racial justice. As a majority white-led organization, this is just one way we are using our power and platform to fight back against white supremacy, exploitation, and erasure in our food system. We will continue to fight for our vision for a more racially-just food system in collaboration with our Black, Indigenous, Latinx and allies of color who have been at the forefront of this fight forever.

This post was written by Keisha Perkins and Abigail Landhuis


Our modern industrial food and agricultural systems are built on a foundation of colonization, genocide, slavery and other forms of exploitation, oppression, and erasure, all of which were justified by white supremacy and myths and narratives like Manifest Destiny and the story that “Iowa feeds the world”. U.S. policy supporting industrialization and consolidation in farming and food production has served to perpetuate racial and ethnic inequalities across the nation, including right here in Iowa. 

Iowa’s landscape

What is now the state of Iowa is a particularly poignant example of the connections between genocide, forced removal, and agriculture. The rich and fertile soil that lies between the Mississippi and Missouri rivers made Iowa the perfect target during westward expansion. After colonists arrived, they were aided by the Homestead Act and other racist policies to redistribute the land they stole from the Sioux, Ioway, Sauk, and Meskwaki nations to largely white settlers. The settlers swapped  traditional farming knowledge and land stewardship practices for exploitative practices to help create the highly consolidated, industrial food and farm system we have today.

Concentration of land, consolidation of meat packing companies, and staggeringly low crop prices created the perfect storm which resulted in the creation of factory farms. Also known as concentrated animal feeding operations, factory farms are a form of intensive agriculture designed to maximize production while minimizing cost. After the farm crisis in the 1980s, factory farms began sprouting up across the nation and they were increasingly built in places situated on rich and fertile soil — like here in Iowa. Today, 70.4% of cows, 98.3% of pigs, 99.8 percent of turkeys, 98.2% of chickens raised for eggs, and 99.9% of chickens raised for meat are raised in factory farms. 

Iowa is now home to over 10,000 factory farms and is the number one producer of corn and soybeans. The land in Iowa is the most altered in the nation. 93% of our state has been changed to support the agriculture industry — all because Iowa is stuck in a false moral imperative about feeding the world.  The enormous build-up of manure and other untreated waste created by factory farms is often stored and disposed of in ways that pose many risks to the environment and human health. Even the American Public Health Association recognizes the detrimental effects that these concentrated animal feeding operations have on the health and well-being of our communities, and is calling for a nationwide moratorium on any new and expanding operations. 

Pollution & Environmental Racism 

The 10,000 factory farms in Iowa create over 22 billion gallons of toxic liquid manure that is dumped untreated onto farm fields across the state. As a result, Iowa has some of the most polluted water in the country, with over 760 impaired waterways, tens of thousands of contaminated wells, and Iowa factory farms contribute almost 50% of the nutrients causing the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Though there is little research specific to Iowa, it is also a well-documented fact that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by polluting industries, like the factory farm industry, and their lax regulation by local, state, and federal governments. This is known as environmental racism. 

Environmental racism may be harder to see than the racism that exists within other aspects of our institutions, like our criminal justice system, but the effects of it are much more deadly. Just one example of this was the environmental disaster in Flint, Michigan. Due to local officials not treating drinking water, thousands of homes, in a predominantly Black city, were exposed to lead-contaminated drinking water. 

In 2019, 235 Black people were killed by police and over 13,000 Black people died due to air pollution alone. Recent studies have shown that people who live in predominantly Black communities suffer greater premature death from pollution than those in predominantly white communities.

Time and time again, throughout our nation’s history, it’s been proven that racism exists in many aspects of our society that we often don’t think about. Even when it isn’t fully documented, like the lack of research on Iowa farm- and environment-related impacts on our communities of color, the impacts of systemic racism aren’t any less valid. This lack of research further demonstrates the barriers we face when attempting to confront racism and white supremacy, as many local and federal policies are reliant upon current research. 

Although we live in a society that places more value on facts and figures than on the stories of everyday people, we know we don’t need numbers to know the truth. We need look no further than the fact that the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers, two of the most polluted rivers in our state, are situated in a county that has one of the largest populations of Black and Latinx people. 

We must acknowledge the direct link between environmental racism and the economic, environmental, and health outcomes of people of color in Iowa if we are ever going to truly understand the devastating impacts that our current agriculture system has on our communities.

Moving Forward for a More Just Food & Farm system 

Throughout history, promises were broken and reparations were cut short or canceled altogether.  After the Civil War, Black farmers were promised land that many did not receive, and we continue to see that injustice in modern day policies, which prop up racism and white supremacy by intentionally leaving out Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color. 

The factory farm industry has overrun Iowa and receives hundreds of millions of public dollars every year. Meanwhile, farmers of color, who are more likely to have smaller farms and grow higher-value, labor-intensive products, receive little to no support.

These bad policies and actions by elected officials and Big Ag show us there is a lack of political will to take action on systemic racism, leaving people of color to continue to be driven out of farming. If we ignore that our highly industrialized food and farm system was built on these systemic injustices, we will never be able to build a just and sustainable food and farm system. 

But before we can move on together to fight for a more just food & farm system, we must acknowledge the deficiencies of white-led organizations and use our power, voice, and platforms to fight back against the bedrock of white supremacy, exploitation, and erasure in our food system. Just as the Black Panthers created food programs, just as the Southern Tenant Farmers Union fought for the land rights of Black people, and just as the “Freedom Farmers” united against racism, we must listen, elevate, and advocate for the solutions put forward by communities of color who are directly impacted by these issues. HEAL Food Alliance and the National Black Food & Justice Alliance are organizations led by Black, Indigenous and other people of color, allied with numerous groups from across the country, leading the way to dismantle racism and white supremacy while standing up for worker rights, sustainable farming, food sovereignty, and land liberation. 


At Iowa CCI, we fight for a food and farm system that works for family farmers, workers, eaters, and the environment. That includes confronting the reality that the United States — including Iowa — was built on stolen land and labor, and the exploitation, oppression, and erase of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color. 

To overcome the horrific legacy of racism in our country, we all must reflect on our own privileges and prejudices, and rethink our institutions. Most importantly we must organize for structural changes that shift power away from corporate agriculture and toward a multi-racial movement of everyday people — because there is no food justice without racial justice, and silence is compliance.

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Want to read more? Revisit parts 1 & 2 of this series here.

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Corporate agribusiness entities have created a false moral imperative about feeding the world. We see it perpetuated by people like former American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman who said: “Many farmers feel strongly that it’s the duty of the less than 1% of the U.S. population still directly involved in farming to help feed the masses.”

Here are three reasons why Iowa doesn’t and shouldn’t aim to feed the world:

1. Farmers aren’t incentivized to grow food. People don’t eat soybeans and corn; corporate-owned pigs at factory farms do. Agribusiness interests incentivize the overproduction of these commodity crops to create cheap feed for corporate controlled factory farms, all while degrading our natural resources and hurting farmers who are forced to farm fence-row to fence-row to try to scrape by. Farmers receive prices lower than the cost of production, while all the profits go straight to the top.

2. This false narrative is rooted in racism and the patriarchy. The corporate-conservative agenda that puts profits before everything is deeply tied to the oppression of people based on the color of their skin, where they come from, and their gender.

Our corporate-controlled agriculture system is no exception and is dependent on the division of everyday people based on perceived differences. At the root of this false narrative is the concept that white male farmers know best how to feed people all across the globe. And these seeds grow the kind of barriers that have kept Black farmers from landownership since Emancipation.

3. Our highly industrial agriculture system is far less resilient than the smaller, regional and diversified family farm operations it replaced. Because of the rampant consolidation over the last 40 years, if one piece of the system is removed the whole thing crumbles. There is no flexibility. As a result during the COVID-19 pandemic, we see cars line up for miles outside of food banks across the country while farmers are forced to kill livestock, dump milk and waste food. Instead of corporations monopolizing a global market and having CEOs dictate how food should be grown “for the world”, we need to stop and re-evaluate how we do better. That starts with a moratorium on factory farms.

It’s safe to say that the make up of our industrial agriculture system is not to feed the world but at the root is created by decades of bad policy driven by corporate greed.

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Local, State, and National Groups Unite in Support of Immediate Moratorium on Factory Farms Amid Covid-19 Crisis

Des Moines, IA – Iowans overwhelmed by COVID-19 crisis are infuriated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ removal of environmental protections from factory farms and the compromised democratic process for permitting amid the global health pandemic. 18 environmental, community, and agricultural organizations are calling on Governor Reynolds to enforce an immediate 6-month moratorium on factory farm construction permits to prevent public health and environmental exploitation by the factory farm industry.

The letter was initiated by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and states:

“Iowa has over 10,000 factory farms. Factory farms are a known public health hazard, causing a variety of health problems including respiratory issues especially for vulnerable populations. This is such a public health concern that the American Public Health Association has called for a moratorium. In the midst of a global health pandemic Iowans are overwhelmed with public safety and health. We should not have to worry about a factory farm moving in further threatening our public health during and beyond this crisis.”

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has rolled back environmental and health protections by allowing factory farms to cram extra animals into confinement buildings and suspending fines for environmental violations.

Additionally, despite DNR offices closing and limited activities being switched to virtual teleconference, permitting for factory farm construction is continuing. County boards of supervisors are being forced to determine how they will proceed with public comment.

“In the past, Reynolds and her administration have fought calls for local control and a moratorium at all cost in order to carry out the factory farm industry’s agenda. But now, during a global health pandemic, Reynolds and the DNR have pushed the responsibility onto each county regarding how they will handle public comment on factory farm applications,” said Louise Minor, CCI Member from West Des Moines, IA.

“The effects of the COVID-19 are and will continue to impact Iowans beyond even the immediate crisis we are facing. We are demanding that Governor Reynolds stand with the interests of everyday Iowans by protecting our public health, our right to clean water and our ability to participate in the democratic process by implementing an immediate 6-month moratorium on factory farms,” said Ava Auen-Ryan, Iowa CCI community organizer.

Iowa CCI members site growing support for a factory farm moratorium. A 2019 poll of voting Iowans showed 63% support a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. One in four Iowa counties have passed resolutions calling on the state legislature to take action for a moratorium and stronger protections from the factory farm industry. In 2019, Iowa CCI along with Food & Water Watch and Public Justice, filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa for their failure to address the impact of corporate agriculture and the factory farm industry on Iowa’s water crisis.

Report spotlights state inaction on continually growing problem, failure of nutrient reduction strategy, lack of political will

For Immediate Release 11/14/2019
For more information, contact:
Adam Mason, State Policy Organizing Director

Des Moines, IA – Today members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (Iowa CCI) are pointing to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) release of the 2018 303d list – better knowns as its impaired waters report as evidence the state is failing Iowans when it comes to water quality. The report released this morning, required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is typically released every two years in the Spring.  However, the DNR claimed difficulties during this reporting cycle leading to the release six months later than normal.

The 2018 report found that Iowa’s impaired water bodies has increased to 767, up from 750 two years ago. Upon initial review, Iowa CCI members also flagged several problematic details:

  • Over half of those waterbodies assessed came back with level 4 or level 5 impairments
  • 57% of Iowa’s rivers and streams that were assessed came back as impaired
  • 57% of Iowa’s lakes and reservoirs that were assessed came back as impaired
  • 523 waters are in need of further assessment
  • Only 27 waterways were “delisted” or removed from a level 4 or level 5 impairment
  • Of the impairments identified, a majority are potentially byproducts of industrialized ag practices within the state (i.e. fish kills attributable to manure spills, fertilizer and pesticides; or bacteria levels and algal growth as a symptom of possible farm runoff)

“Today’s report is woefully inadequate and insufficient. Iowans are being hurt physically and financially by the quality of water in Iowa. We need definite numbers to really see the trends in Iowa’s water quality.” Said Betty Salmon, a retired teacher and Iowa CCI member from Urbandale, IA.

Iowa’s primary strategy for improving water quality has been the Voluntary Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS), adopted in 2013 to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus loading in Iowa’s waterways. However, when it comes to nonpoint sources of nutrient pollution – industrial agricultural operations and practices being one of the main examples – the strategy is merely voluntary.

This voluntary NRS has been proven to be a complete failure and according to a report from the Iowa Environmental Council (IEC), the state is hundreds, possibly even thousands of years behind where we should be to reduce Iowa’s contribution to the Dead Zone in the Gulf of Mexico. 

“This is one more sign that the state’s nutrient reduction strategy is a complete failure. The report fails to differentiate the magnitude of impairments in many of Iowa’s waterways. But the reality is that any impairment is unacceptable.” said Cherie Mortice, retired teacher and Iowa CCI member from Des Moines. “That’s why are suing the state – every Iowan has a right to clean water and the state has a duty to protect that right.”

Earlier this year, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed a lawsuit against the State of Iowa because the Legislature has failed to take Iowa’s water pollution crisis seriously. The groups’ lawsuit alleges that the state has violated its obligation under the Public Trust Doctrine to protect the Raccoon River for the use and benefit of all Iowans by failing to limit the pollution running off industrial agriculture operations into the Raccoon River and its tributaries.

The lawsuit asks the Court to order the state to adopt a mandatory clean-plan and a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms – the main contributors to the elevated nitrogen and phosphorus pollution found in the water. The groups are represented by Public Justice, Food & Water Watch, Roxanne Conlin & Associates, and Channing Dutton, of Lawyer, Lawyer, Dutton & Drake LLP.

In spite of the mounting demand for action on water, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds to tout her investment in the failed NRS. Recent Iowa Policy Project reports show her claims ring untrue as well, with the level of water quality funding being lower than it was ten years ago in terms of real dollars.

“We know that DNR is overworked and understaffed. They want to do a good job, and care about our natural resources.” said Tom Mohan, Iowa CCI board president from Sioux City. “This is really a question of political will. We call on Governor Reynolds and the Legislature to provide all Iowans the clean water we demand and deserve.”