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Factory farm opponents call for ‘bold action’ from Legislature
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Factory farm opponents call for ‘bold action’ from Legislature

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DES MOINES — Advocates for a moratorium on factory farms warned that time is running out for Iowa, but conceded it’s unlikely the Republican-controlled Iowa Legislature will approve their proposal.

“We have spent decades asking for incremental change to address the issue of the factory farm industry,” Emma Schmit of Food and Water Watch said Tuesday at a virtual news conference called by supporters of House File 440.

Instead of those safeguards, she said, Iowa now has “more than 10,000 factory farms (and) more than 750 polluted waterways.

“If we want any semblance of an agriculture sector in Iowa left for our grandchildren, we need to take bold action right now,” Schmit said.

That’s unlikely because House Speaker Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford, has declared the bill “dead on arrival.”

“The speaker has been consistent on this point: You can’t begin a conversation on this issue with one of the most radical proposals there is,” Grassley spokeswoman Melissa Deatsch said.

Schmit said that’s not surprising because “rather than fixing the system that allowed hogs to be the only profitable option in the first place, politicians like Speaker Grassley have spent decades supporting policies that have decimated our system of agriculture, and polluting our water, endangering our public health and razing our rural communities along the way.

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“The dysfunction in our ag system is what has allowed him, his father and his grandfather to rake in over $1.5 million in subsidies,” she said.

Rep. Art Staed, D-Cedar Rapids, and 18 others have co-sponsored HF 440 calling for a moratorium on expansion of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, “because the relentless expansion of these large operation poses threats to our health, our air quality and our drinking water.”

“It’s past time for the Legislature to act,” he said. “Ignoring the increasing threat to the health of our rural farms and communities, the threat to our quality of life and the threat to our fragile environment can no longer be business as usual here at the Capitol.”

However, Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, who has introduced similar bills in the past, acknowledged that the bill “has no chance” of approval “in a Republican-controlled atmosphere.”

“We need better communication, I think, from rural residents to their rural, mostly Republican representatives,” she said.

That kind of thinking may be why Democrats represent mostly urban parts of the state while Republicans represent all or parts of 97 out of Iowa’s 99 counties, Deatsch said.

“Clearly Democrats have become completely out of touch with rural Iowa,” she said.

HF 440 has been assigned to the Agriculture Committee, but has not been assigned to a subcommittee for a hearing.

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