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waterworks. By late July, the water flowing through the pipes was fter Jay Lausen’s impassioned appeal to the registering 9.65 milligrams per liter of nitrates, just under the 10 mg/L county supervisors, a group of concerned citizens called a allowed by the EPA. Kinman was granted a face-to-face meeting with the public meeting to consider legal options for opposing the federal agency and the Iowa DNR to discuss ways of reducing nitrate proposed New Fashion Pork facility outside Estherville. loads—but came away with no assurances. More than 100 people gathered in the gymnasium of the “The political scene in Iowa right now is almost over‑the‑top suplocal Regional Wellness Center. Brad Freking went, too, portive of agriculture,” Kinman told me. and fielded more than an hour’s worth of questions. “We are pretty After the Iowa environmental groups filed notice of intent to sue in comfortable with the site,” he told the crowd, but by the end of the 2011, the EPA was finally forced to act. In July 2012 it issued a scath- evening he promised, “We’re going to pursue an alternative location ing critique of the DNR’s handling of the state’s factory farms, finding if possible.” And that’s exactly what they did. that it had failed to properly issue required permits for operating Freking told me he had gained “tremendous respect” for the Iowa such facilities, to administer inspections, to respond to manure spills Great Lakes Watershed and the rivers it feeds and had learned to and other environmental violations, and to assess adequate fines and consider community concerns before purchasing property or applypenalties when violations did occur. But nearly a year later, the state ing for a permit to build. “You understand the watersheds, and you had still failed to take any action. Given just stay out of them,” he said. “That’s the dangerous levels of nitrates at that our approach.” time—and the overall trend line of water Later, I recounted that conversation contamination—Kinman told me, “At to Lausen. I asked him if this might repsome point, we will violate.” resent a ray of hope—and a way forApparently fearing that the crisis ward. Sure, the EPA appeared cowed pork you eat with your breakfast eggs (whether would give the EPA leverage to interby political pressure and, yes, the Iowa it’s sausage, ham, or bacon) is humanely produced, cede, Governor Branstad took preempDepartment of Natural Resources, eco-friendly, and not poisoning our water? tive action. On May 20, 2013, he sent a hamstrung by the governor and the First, look for the USDA Organic seal. But rememletter to acting EPA Administrator Bob legislature, seemed unlikely to carry ber, organic certification does not require that hogs Perciasepe and Assistant Administraout more than minimal enforcement of or chickens have access to the outdoors, so there is tor Gina McCarthy, whom President the Clean Water Act. But maybe direct no guarantee that the pork is CAFO-free. Obama had nominated to helm the public pressure was enough to appeal Better is the Animal Welfare Approved label, agency. Branstad denounced CAFO to the conscience of these businesses. which certifies that animals have been raised in compliance inspections as “the ‘gotcha’ Lausen broke out in a broad smile. pasture conditions from birth to slaughter. Stanapproach.” He insisted that “the majority “You haven’t seen where they built dards are higher here, and there are relatively of discharges into Iowa’s waters are acciinstead, have you?” he asked. few approved producers, which can make finding dental spills” and claimed that runoff was By the time I arrived at the new site, these products a challenge. But the AWA website unavoidable because it was “caused by the sun had burned through the mornfeatures a search tool to aid your quest. Mother Nature.” He invited McCarthy ing rains. The cold of weeks before had The best option is to befriend a local farmer and to come to Iowa and meet with livestock turned into a brief, unseasonable warmbuy direct. My family bought its pork for the winindustry leaders. up. The sun was so bright, in fact, that ter from the well-maintained pastures of Hamilton Last August, McCarthy—who had we could see light glinting on the water Heritage Farm in Ceresco, Nebraska. Later I parjust been confirmed by the Senate— running off the newly fertilized fields ticipated in the slaughter of our hog at an off-site met with Farm Bureau members toward Brown Creek, right where it butcher. This may not be for everyone, but seeing under the picnic shelter at the Iowa passes under a bridge and bends into your hog raised reminds you that your bacon comes State Fairgrounds and pledged to esa stand of trees on its way to the Des from a living animal, not just a sealed package in tablish a “more trusting relationship Moines River. The fields surrounding the refrigerated section of the supermarket. —t.G. between EPA and the agriculture comthe New Fashion Pork facility, new and munity.” Jay Moore of New Fashion Pork told me, “It was just refresh- bright-white on the hill, drained directly into a DNR-maintained ing to hear her talk.” Within weeks, the EPA and Iowa had struck a wildlife management area. deal: the state would reopen hiring for 7 of the 14 positions eliminated The new site might seem absurd, but it deftly swings to the east, by the governor since 2011 and would allocate roughly $30 million avoiding Estherville and local opposition. But what about the people to water quality initiatives. downstream in Emmetsburg or Fort Dodge or the half-million people Scientists at DMWW point out that the Raccoon and Des Moines who depend on the river in Des Moines? For that matter, what about rivers have the highest and second-highest nitrate concentrations St. Louis and Memphis, Baton Rouge and New Orleans? What about of the 42 major tributaries to the Mississippi. The $30 million alloca- everyone from here to the Gulf Coast who goes to the tap expecting to tion, they say, is just too little to address such an enormous problem. find clean, safe water? As long as the hog industry runs wild in Iowa, “I have four little grandkids,” Kinman said. She tells her daughter, that question will be harder and harder to answer. who lives in a rural community, not to give her children tap water. “There are companies that make special bottled water for infants. I Ted Genoways is OnEarth’s editor-at-large and the author of The Chain: Farm, said, ‘You buy that in the spring and the fall.’” Factory, and the Fate of Our Food, forthcoming from HarperCollins.

Green Eggs & Ham How do you make sure that the

spring 2014

onearth 3 5

OnEarth Spring 2014  

Hog Wild, by Ted Genoways

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