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

Introduction

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. 

Conclusion

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.

Want to learn more? For more original content and all things food and water, sign up to receive CCI’s Food, Farm & Water Dispatch for monthly content straight to your inbox

Want to support this work? The work we do at Iowa CCI is member-funded and member-led. Join now

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

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.

Missed Part 1 of the series? Check it out here.

Introduction

Our modern food and farm system changed dramatically with the industrialization of the mid-20th century, but its reliance on the exploitation of Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color remained. 

Colonialism took on a different form with the rise of globalization —spreading U.S. influence and power internationally. Market forces shaped who did and did not have power, and agriculture played a central role in escalating and maintaining the dominance the U.S. had built on years of stolen land and labor. 

The policies that shifted the balance of power in our food and farm system disproportionately impacted Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other farmers and workers of color and continued to exploit them for their knowledge, labor, and land.

“Get big or get out”

The 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act resulted in a three-pronged supply management strategy for farms. Price floors were created for certain crops, the federal government was able to purchase excess grains to stabilize the price of crops, and farmers were paid to set aside land for conservation. Together, these programs ensured farmers were given a living wage for their goods, while preventing overproduction and environmental harm.  In short, these programs supported a food system controlled by many independent family farmers.

These policies began to be rolled back before the 1970s, but it was President Nixon’s Secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, that led the charge for completely dismantling the parity agriculture system in favor of one that prioritized profit over everything else.

 Butz told farmers to “get big or get out” thus creating the concept of Big Ag. He prioritized increasing production and decreasing commodity prices over all else, including farmers’ livelihoods, the success of rural communities, and the health and safety of consumers and the environment. He got rid of supply management policies that had stabilized food prices, while encouraging farmers to plant fence row to fence row, relying on export markets to get rid of surplus. 

He was aided by the story that US farmers “feed the world” — a narrative that made it easier to sacrifice the health of the land, kick indigenous and traditional farming practices to the margins, and ramp up production to never-before-seen levels. 

At the same time this was happening, the U.S. eased up on the oversight of mergers and acquisitions in all industries. This set off a domino effect, allowing numerous waves of consolidation in the food and agricultural sectors, and it virtually eliminated small and independent companies. This decision resulted in collapsing commodity prices and a massive transfer of wealth and power to Big Ag, exploiting family farmers, workers, consumers, and the environment.

Effect on family farmers

This push to “get big or get out” resulted in farmers having to take on more and more debt to buy land, bigger equipment, more fertilizers and pesticide.  They also had to produce  as much as they could, as fast as they could, for as cheap as possible. In addition to this, farmers were forced into exploitative contracts with large agriculture corporations, which resulted in corporations controlling the animals and the profits while family farmers bore the cost of production.

By calling on farmers to “feed the world,” Butz was able to eliminate any price supports, driving crop prices down. By the 1980s, due to the lack of supply management policies, farms were producing way more than the market could handle. Prices fell drastically and interest rates on the loans farmers had taken out in order to “get big” were devastating. Farmers buckled under the weight of the debt they’d taken on to expand their farms and tens of thousands of family farms were lost, hollowing out communities and leading to the increased consolidation of land in the hands of a few. As a result, between 2012 and 2017, 67,000 farmers went out of business. Now just over 5% of farms account for 75% in sales.

Disproportionate impacts on Black farmers

Corporate consolidation and the shift of power to Big Ag combined with a history of colonization and exploitation — rooted in racism and white supremacy — resulted in an immense loss of land and livelihood for Black families specifically. In 1920, Black farmers represented 14% of all U.S. farmers and owned a total of 15 million acres of land. Today, less than 1 percent of the nation’s farmers are Black, and they own and operate less than 2 percent of the farmland they did in 1920. 

This loss of land came about for numerous reasons, but the leading cause of involuntary land loss among Black families is due to exploitation of heirs property — property that was passed down to multiple family members without having documentation, like a will. The racism embedded in the U.S. court systems resulted in a lack of trust — so much that, even today, 76% of Black people do not have wills— making it very difficult to prove ownership of land. Combining that with other loopholes, Black families often had to watch as their land was auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will, stripping families of the land they’d accumulated.

The drastic decrease in the number of Black farmers and farmland was also instigated by racial discrimination within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the loan officers responsible for deciding which farmers get support from USDA loan programs. These loan officers often approved only a fraction of Black farmers’ loan requests and most often denied farm equipment loans or disaster relief to Black farmers. This began a ripple effect that resulted in over 100,000 Black farmers joining together for a class action lawsuit against the USDA for the part they played in ensuring Black families wouldn’t make a successful living through farming.

Conclusion

The narratives of “get big or get out” and “we feed the world” pushed by Big Ag continued to reinforce the exploitative and oppressive systems embedded in our food and farm system. No matter how you look at it, whether it’s the dairy, hog, beef, or poultry industry, the trend is the same: the industrialization and monopolization of agriculture by a few massive corporations. Agribusiness corporations like Farm Bureau, Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, DowDuPont, Smithfield, and Tyson Foods have exploited communities and displaced thousands upon thousands of family farmers, especially Black farmers. In the next installment of this series, we’ll look at the role and impact of this racist, oppressive system specifically in Iowa. Read Part 3 to learn more.

Want to learn more? For more original content and all things food and water, sign up to receive CCI’s Food, Farm & Water Dispatch for monthly content straight to your inbox

Want to support this work? The work we do at Iowa CCI is member-funded and member-led. Join now

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, in collaboration with Mackenzie Aime. 

Introduction

As we reflect as a nation on the systemic racism in our institutions, we must also recognize and confront racism in every aspect of U.S. policy, including the agricultural policies that underpin our food and farm systems. Our modern industrial food and agricultural systems are built on a foundation of colonization, genocide, and slavery, as well as other forms of exploitation, oppression, and erasure, all of which were justified by white supremacy. 

We need to overhaul our food and farm system, and a key part of this overhaul is to recognize, reject and uproot the racism in this system and work towards the collective liberation of all people. To do this, we must eradicate the structures that harm Black, Indigineous, Latinx and people of color most. This is the first of a three-part series that looks at the role of racism in our food system — past and present — and why we must dismantle it in order to build a better future.  

Colonization

The roots of systemic racism in our food and farm system are deep, and they stretch as far back as the arrival of European colonists. The false premises of discovery and European rightful ownership resulted in the forced removal of Indigenous people from their land  — land which they had cared for, tended, and relied upon for millennia.  

In the mid-1800s, “Manifest Destiny” was the story white leaders told to justify and encourage Europeans’ right and duty to colonize North America. The myth that God willed white settlers to occupy the continent from coast to coast justified the violation or rejection of treaties with indigenous nations, the forced removal of nations from the land, and the genocide of over 9 million Indigenous people. Land theft, mass killing, and sexual assault were condoned by the U.S. government to provide white settlers with land. This stolen land, as well as the horrors inflicted to take it, is the foundation for the modern agricultural system that exists in the United States today. 

Slavery

A century later, these white supremacist sentiments allowed for the creation of and reliance on slavery and stolen labor that built our nation. This stolen labor, coupled with the simultaneous extraction of farming knowledge from enslaved Black people, directly facilitated America’s economic domination in the 18th and 19th centuries and ultimately built an empire of production, processing and trade. 

Slavery, through the means of owning another person’s body, finally became illegal and the last legally enslaved person was freed on June 19, 1865. Modest attempts were made to provide previously enslaved people with the resources they needed to survive for a brief period. After the Civil War, these were cut short. Reparations that promised up to 40 acres to every newly emancipated Black person were canceled, and land was returned to former white slave owners. 

As a result, four million Black people were left without land. The tradition of Black exploitation for food production continued in the form of tenant farming, sharecropping and land grabbing by white landowners. 

While on paper this form of slavery had ended, people made choices that gave rise to a new form of exploitation, by stoking fear that Black farmers would have their land taken from them at any moment, without cause or justification. Racist policies and treatment were used to control and steal resources from Black sharecroppers for the benefit of white landowners — and it also supported the industrialization of America and the growth of wealth for capitalists in industries beyond agriculture, such as textiles, manufacturing, and banking.  

Violence and resource extraction have remained strong throughout our history. Due to Jim Crow-era segregation policies, Black people were forced into heavily exploited and marginalized farmworker jobs. Deep-seated racist narratives and structures ensured that Black people had little, if any, power to object to discriminatory treatment, and could face deadly consequences if they did. 

When the Depression ravaged the country, its effects were not felt equally among all people. The passing of the Social Security Act (SSA) of 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) of 1938 were supposed to provide protections to workers during times of economic crisis and create safer working conditions. However, both the SSA and FLSA excluded farmworkers, who at the time were largely Black people, from receiving benefits. This intentional exclusion of farmworkers reinforced the racism and inequity embedded in our agricultural system — and forced workers to continue to grapple with deplorable and unjust working conditions.

Immigrant Workers

In more recent history, the agricultural industry has struggled to recruit U.S. citizens willing to do dangerous and backbreaking work. But, instead of improving wages and working conditions, the industry pivoted to recruiting and exploiting immigrants, who have fewer legal protections in the U.S. 

Just as in the 19th century, the people in power used a story to hide what they were doing. Remember Manifest Destiny? This time, they built policies and structures to support their exploitation of immigrants under the false pretense of the “American Dream.”

In 1942, due to a worker shortage during World War II, the Mexican Farm Labor Program Agreement was created to incentivize farmers to hire immigrants from Mexico as farmworkers. As a result, millions of immigrant workers and their families were lured to the United States  under the false promise of better lives for themselves and their children. They were enticed into crossing a hostile border into unwelcoming territory to work for pennies per pound. 

To this day, this is how the majority of the work in our agricultural system is done. Modern-day agreements, such as NAFTA, passed in 1993, enable the exploitation of immigrant workers – many of whom are undocumented. Employers often know they are hiring undocumented workers, and then use the threat of deportation to supress any efforts to secure better, safer working conditions or higher wages. 

Conclusion

Racism is woven into the fabric of our modern food and agricultural system, but its history pre-dates the founding of this country. We have exploited the labor of people from around the world, including Africa, Asia, and South and Central America. We cannot ignore that our country was built on the systemic injustices of slavery and the exploitation of immigrants and Black, Indigenous, and Latinx and other people of color. In the next installment of this series, we’ll explore the injustice in our modern-day food and farming system — and what we can, and must, do to build a better future. Read Part 2 & 3 here.

Want to learn more? For more original content and all things food and water, sign up to receive CCI’s Food, Farm & Water Dispatch for monthly content straight to your inbox

Want to support this work? The work we do at Iowa CCI is member-funded and member-led. Join now!

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement highlights importance of clean water lawsuit 

Des Moines, IA – This past weekend, a failed manure tank valve from a hog factory farm in Buena Vista County released an unknown amount of manure which resulted in dead fish, manure, and elevated ammonia levels throughout four miles of a tributary of the North Raccoon River.

“Time and time again factory farms are allowed to build too close to major water sources like the Raccoon River. Pair that with zero accountability for manure spills like this one and it’s a recipe for disaster. We need stronger laws and regulations to mitigate this issue, otherwise it will be people downstream that keep paying the price to clean up the mess,” said Linda Luhring, member of Iowa CCI from Calhoun county, just south of the maure spill.

So far this year, 9 factory farms have discharged liquid manure and raw feces, 4 of which reached Iowa’s 767 already impaired waterways. In the last 5 years, over 100 manure spills have polluted Iowa’s waterways. This doesn’t take into consideration the over 22 billion gallons of liquid manure from Iowa’s over 10,000 factory farms that is dumped untreated every year onto fields across the state resulting in double, and sometimes triple, the amount of nitrates being applied to farm fields.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch filed a clean water lawsuit against the State of Iowa early last year after failures by the Legislature and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds 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 state’s waterways. 

“The Raccoon River runs through one of the most intensely farmed areas in the United States. If the state’s failed nutrient reduction strategy remains voluntary and we continue allowing the factory farm industry to expand, Iowa’s water crisis isn’t going to improve. Manure spills that have polluted our waters, like this one, are why we are suing the state,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director at Iowa CCI. “We know that our water isn’t going to clean itself up, which is why we need mandatory and measurable strategies to ensure the future of our water is safe – for us and every generation after us. 

Background: 

The Raccoon River is the source of drinking water for some 500,000 Iowans.  Des Moines Water Works, the largest water utility in Iowa, has one of the largest and most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world. The utility’s struggle to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines metro residents was documented in its 2015 lawsuit against upstream counties alleging that their failure to regulate tile drains led to excessive amounts of dangerous nitrates in the utility’s Raccoon River source water.

A bill to establish a moratorium on new and expanded factory farms was introduced in the Iowa Senate and House of Representatives during the 2019-2020 Legislative Sessions. Despite growing concern from citizens and an increasing number of legislative sponsors, leadership in the Iowa General Assembly refused to allow the bill to even be debated in subcommittee.

The lawsuit is a response to Iowa’s failed leadership, which has allowed the agribusiness industry to degrade Iowa’s waterways, leaving citizens with the burden of pollution and the cost of cleanup efforts.  The suit seeks actionable, mandatory solutions that will restore the Racoon River and make it safe for people to recreate in and for those who rely on it for drinking water. The case is currently pending an interlocutory appeal granted by the Iowa Supreme Court. The appeal will likely be heard by the Iowa Supreme Court coming up in the fall of 2020.