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editor’s letter

I

A SERIOUS CASE OF HOG WASH n our cover story, “Hog Wild,” editor-at-large TED GENOWAYS reveals

D oug l as S . b arasch

8 onearth

spring 2014

Jeff weiner

that pig factories in Iowa are so out of control that they’re actually endangering the state’s supply of drinking water. Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, can confine a thousand or more pigs in a single location. Those pigs generate enormous amounts of manure, which then gets spread onto fields as fertilizer. From the point of view of Brad Freking, the CEO of New Fashion Pork (whose operation Genoways was able to visit), this makes perfect sense: “Here’s my farm, and I put my pig barn on my farm and then I take the organic nutrients out of that pig and put it on the farm to grow the corn to feed the pig. It’s very sustainable.” Sounds good—except for the fact that large quantities of this waste end The state agencies that ought to be up running off overplanted, eroded, and providing oversight of the industry have drought-hardened fields and entering nearby rivers. As a result, Iowa’s water been seriously weakened by politicians supply contains dangerously high levwho share deep ties to Big Ag els of nitrates and E. coli bacteria. Hog manure is also a worrisome source of antibiotic-resistant bacteria because of all the drugs that are fed to factory-farmed animals to promote growth and prevent disease arising from their unsanitary living conditions. Another thing Genoways learned is that most of New Fashion Pork’s pigs are being raised to produce… Spam. And the fastest growing market for Spam is… China. So let’s review: pig farming in Iowa is threatening the state’s drinking water in order to send Spam to China. And to make matters worse, the very state agencies that ought to be providing regulatory oversight of the pork industry have been seriously weakened by politicians who share deep ties to Big Ag. One aspect of Genoways’s reporting struck us as highly curious: the people at New Fashion Pork weren’t secretive about their operations, and in fact cheerfully provided plant tours and interviews with top brass. The reason is that they are proud of their facilities and must have believed that even a journalist as skeptical and knowledgeable as Genoways (who is finishing up a book on Hormel Foods for HarperCollins, titled The Chain: Farm, Factory, and the Fate of Our Food) would have no choice but to see the CAFOs as anything other than highly efficient, technologically state-of-the-art, and optimally managed. That suggests there’s a big gap between Freking’s definition of “sustainable” and that of other interested parties—such as the scientists at the Des Moines Water Works, whose job is to ensure a safe water supply, and farmers who live near existing and proposed CAFOs. Or maybe Freking doesn’t have a different understanding of the facts, just a different set of priorities. And while he insists that he is sensitive to community concerns about the environment—“You understand the watersheds, and you just stay out them,” he tells Genoways at one point—the people of Iowa, not to mention the millions of others who live downstream from our factory farms, may be starting to feel differently.

OnEarth Spring 2014  

Hog Wild, by Ted Genoways

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