Guest Editorial

Monday, April 8, 2002

Raw deal on Iowa livestock reputation

Rcently, the organization ICCI (Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement), ran a letter to the editor in local papers in my district. This letter contained misleading information about my efforts in the legislature regarding hog lots. It is necessary for me to give you a true picture.

ICCI wants you to believe the legislature has put the interests of large hog lot owners first. Nothing could be further from the truth. In 1995, the legislature adopted strict statewide standards for pork operations, establishing distance separation requirements between a livestock facility and a neighbor's home or a city's borders. Prior to passage of this law, there was no distance separation requirement - a confinement could be built right next to a town's borders or next to your house. At the time of that legislation's passage, these restrictions were the toughest in the nation. I supported the bill but objected to the "nuisance suit protection" provision in the bill as a violation of property rights and the courts eventually agreed.

In 1998, the legislature increased the distance added new distance requirements for rivers and streams. The bill also increased engineering standards required for pork production facilities and lagoons, making the standards equal to, or even higher than, standards set for municipal sewage lagoons. The legislature also provided, with unanimous approval in the Senate, for a much more family farm friendly corporate structure, effectively keeping families on farms. This, too, is misrepresented by ICCI.

These pieces of legislation have helped Iowa avoid many environmental problems other states have faced with large livestock operations. Even though Iowa is the largest pork producing state in the nation, leading environmental groups have recently admitted that Iowa has done a much better job than states like Missouri or North Carolina in protecting our air and drinking water from pollution that might emanate from a livestock facility.

In 1999, the legislature took steps to increase the amount of public information available to producers about prices packers were paying producers for livestock. This action was taken after concerns were raised that packers were giving special deals to large producers at the expense of smaller producers, and was passed over the objection of some large producers.

In 2000, as vice-chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, I worked with producers and environmental groups to draft legislation that made a significant investment to improve the quality of Iowa's drinking water. The legislature created a new clean water initiative that will spend over $100 million a year in state and federal dollars to improve water quality monitoring, add conservation buffer strips, and establish a Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to encourage farmers to protect streams and rivers from damage that might be caused by accidental spills or runoff.

In 2002, we prohibited vertical integration of the livestock industry. We passed legislation to further tighten the prohibition on packer ownership of livestock which protects the family farmer from potential monopoly. We are currently deliberating on a 50-page bill that extends confinement siting distances, prohibits construction in a flood plain, provides for specific local input, establishes a scoring matrix, establishes a phosphorous standard in addition to nitrogen, requires ground water monitoring wells near earthen storage facilities, establishes DNR air quality monitoring, and gives credit for living on the confinement site.

Many of these pro-family farmer, pro-environment initiatives were left out of the ICCI letters. That is unfortunate because it prevents an honest dialogue about how best to address the issues that surround the livestock industry in this state. I am interested in having that discussion with you, the citizens of this area, free of interruption from Des Moines-based groups with their own agendas.

My life's work is soil conservation and water quality. I have spent my life outdoors on hundreds of farms in the area. I have boated and fished every river in western Iowa and nearly every lake.

I am determined to protect the livestock industry, the environment, property rights and profitability. It takes time to adjust to a new industry. We have made adjustments in 1995, 1998, 2000 and 2002. I regret none of the decisions or votes I have made.

I only regret that you have been misinformed by an organization whose agenda is to drive the livestock industry out of Iowa.

Steve King is a native of Storm Lake and an earth-moving contractor who serves District 6 in the Iowa Senate. He is running for a Congressional seat in the newly-drawn District 5 of western Iowa.