October 04, 2023

Letter to the editor

It seems many Iowa hog producers are still complaining about the Supreme Court decision upholding California’s right to demand farrowing pens with room for sows to stand up, lie down, and turn around, for pork sold in California. So now there is a bill in Congress called EATS, the Ending Agricultural Trade Suppression Act, which would reinstate the right of Iowa CAFOs and pork processors to ship their product all the way to California, without having to retrofit their source facilities with larger farrowing pens.

But wait: at today’s gas prices, how is such long-distance shipping even cost-effective? What is the carbon footprint being generated by all this long-distance trucking? Can’t California just produce its own pork?

Well, yes, it can, and it does. 45 million pounds of per month, according to foodprocessing.com. But Californians consume about 225 million pounds per month, so it is likely that in-state production will be increasing if Iowa producers are really going to go out of business because they can’t afford the retrofitting costs. California can also get more pork from Oregon, Arizona, and Colorado - along with Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island, the other states that have banned gestation crates.

Do we need to be reminded that all Iowans don’t love CAFOS (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations)? My grandfather built a then-state-of-the-art hog facility, with farrowing pens, in the early 1960s, modern enough to be featured at the time in the Des Moines Register. I never saw sows attack each other or kill their babies, since they had room to move, access to an outdoor pen, and general lack of stress. There are so many old photos in my basement of happy pigs, from there and from test farms elsewhere, that I don’t know what to do with them. But in today’s CAFOS, employees aren’t even allowed to take pictures lest people get upset about whatever is going on in there.

Some of the young couples that get featured in the Farm Bureau Spokesman for building their very own CAFOs could think about trying to diversify a little. Otherwise, they start to look like coal miners who really, really want to keep those back-breaking, lung-destroying coal mining jobs for their children to toil away at like their daddies before them, instead of seeing which way the wind is blowing and making at least some effort to adapt. In Kentucky, former tobacco farmers produce gourmet mushrooms, asparagus, berries, flowers, garlic, emus, shrimp, and catfish. Iowans with much better land to work with can do even more, and many of them already are.

Considerations of humane treatment aside, most of us would rather buy locally produced food. The economies of scale and labor exploitation, including exploitation of immigrant labor, are employed by mega-corporations to undercut locally produced goods. But with season-extending greenhouse and hydroponic technology, most of what we eat can and should be produced locally.

It shouldn’t cost more, and it wouldn’t, if the interstate food production and shipping conglomerates had to pay the true price of what they’re doing to the atmosphere and the climate with all the running around. We have a farmer’s market in Osceola and a bigger one in Indianola. Harvest Barn and Timber Ridge sell locally produced meat and other Iowa products, and some of what is at Fareway and HyVee is local too, if we could only tell which it is. Some retailers are starting to realize that products labeled with a local origin sell better.

Whose agricultural trade is being suppressed, really? Local producers everywhere. To truly end agricultural trade suppression, we need to stop enabling so much interstate and international shipping of foods that can and are being produced locally.