MASON CITY - No simple answers surfaced Wednesday during a town hall meeting about local control and the environmental impact of livestock confinement operations.
The hot button issues attracted more than 200 people to the forum, which featured a panel of six experts.
Wayne Gieselman of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Environmental Services Division said open communication can defuse emotions attached to what is clearly a sensitive issue.
"It all comes back to responsible management and being good neighbors," he said.
While echoing the theme, Aaron Putze of the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers noted the state's economy depends on agriculture.
"We need farmers and the livestock industry, and being a good neighbor knows no size," he said.
Gieselman acknowledge groundwater contamination is a part of the equation.
"But the problems involve much more than confinements issues," he said.
"We need to start looking at watershed approaches and change our way of doing things - in farm fields and on golf courses, in open feed lots and confinements."
State Rep. Mark Kuhn, D-Charles City, is a farmer and served on the panel. He said confinement siting regulations are not adequate.
"Local control is a good starting point for legislative discussion," he said. "I believe there are places in the state we should not be raising hogs.
"With today's law, manure can be applied within one foot of a home, of a church, of a drinking water well, as long as the manure is incorporated into the soil within 24 hours. I don't think those standards are good enough," Kuhn said.
Several hog producers in the audience strongly disagreed with putting their fate in their neighbors' hands
"If you go to local control it will shut the industry off," said Roger Smith of Garner.
He also challenged the opinion hog producers poison the water supply.
"And as for confinements creating groundwater problems, I can't image any farmer wanting to drink manure for breakfast," Smith said.
Keith Kuper, a farmer near Ackley and a panelist, said livestock confinement operations should follow the rules.
"Other businesses and industries in Iowa have to comply with zoning and environmental ordinances," he said. "Why should hog producers be exempt?"
Farmer Norm Schmitt of Rudd, who was on the panel, sided with Smith.
"Local control could eviscerate our local producers and cause a large gap in production," he said.
The question also surfaced whether feeding antibiotics to confined animals causes health issues for humans.
In Dr. Stephanie Seemuth of the Worth County Board of Health said airborne antibiotic resistant pathogens are a problem proven to cause staph and strep infections.
Bacteria resistant to antibiotics are often found around confinements, Seemuth added, "and antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been found to travel in groundwater, so that is also a concern."
Iowa raises 25 percent of the pork produced in the United States and the hog industry plays a vital role in the state's economy.
"So we must find some resolution," Kuhn said.
"I believe we can have strong pork production and still protect our groundwater, our public areas and our way of life."
The forum was sponsored by the Mason City Globe Gazette and KIMT-TV.
Contact Jan Horgen at (641) 421-0534 or firstname.lastname@example.org.