In My Opinion
by Caroline Porter

It smells a lot better in Iowa

These days we're dealing with a lot of stinky political subjects, but factory hog farms still leads the list. Our state legislature and Governor George Ryan supposedly concocted a wonderful set of regulations for these huge operations, but anything is better than nothing -- right? Wrong. What we have with our current regulations is just a pretense of some kind of solution to the problems of water and air pollution related to these industrial operations. And the regulating agency for our current set of rules is the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which is, of course, like the fox guarding the hen house.

County government has no say whether a huge industrial operation plops itself down in the county or not - contrary to all other development and zoning considerations on the books.

So imagine my surprise when I read in the Quad City Times about the Iowa state legislature working on the problems of industrial hog operations, trying to develop a list for county officials to use when deciding whether to recommend approval of factory-style livestock farms. Say -- what? County officials? There must be some mistake. The Illinois Republican party, which babbles on about local control, gets really touchy on this particular subject and local control is out of the question. Republicans really believe in individual freedoms as long as one agrees with them. If not -- forget it.

Anyway, the new Iowa law restricts where factory-style farms can be built, prohibiting farmers from building them in 100-year flood plains and requiring counties to use a set of criteria to decide whether a proposed project will be built. A committee set up by the Iowa legislature will eventually give each criteria a point value. Farmers applying for a factory farm permit will need to earn a number of points to receive the county's recommendation for the permit. Permit approval will ultimately lie in the hands of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. This is really blowing my mind. It just makes too much sense.

I love this paragraph ''Committee members worked out the details of some of the criteria to make them specific enough for county supervisors to understand.'' Sounds rather patronizing, but a good idea.

In 1999 I wrote about this subject and talked about a set of criteria for new development in the county, adopted by the Knox County Board in 1993. The program is called LESA, which stands for land evaluation and site assessment system, a policy designed to provide a rational, objective and consistent process for assisting local officials in making decisions on conversion of farmland to non-farmland/urban uses through the land use planning and zoning process. The object of the system is the protection of irreplaceable farmland by land use decision makers, including landholders, developers, state and local planners, government officials and to implement national and state farmland protection policies.

When one considers that an operation generating enough waste to equal a community of 30,000 people was established near Williamsfield in the middle of prime farmland in our county, it seems ludicrous that our local planning and zoning officials wouldn't have some control over such a development. The arguments were proven long ago that mega-hog operations can have disastrous effects on quality of air and water, water supplies and sewage systems.

Consider the fact that in the towns of Altona, Rio and Williamsfield, residents often can't sit on their porches because of the odor or wash clothes at certain times because the water pressure is too low. In Missouri, wells went dry in a 40- mile radius of a Murphy Family Farms mega-hog operation.

But then, these operations support families. And we need jobs. We need to do what we can to make life liveable for everyone. That's what Iowa legislators are sincerely trying to do. Our Illinois legislators have tried to put a lid on the problem and make it go away. It won't work.

Caroline Porter is a freelance writer from Galesburg who can be reached at

Uploaded to The Zephyr website August 14, 2002

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