The Iowa House has endorsed the idea of giving Iowa State University $22.8 million to conduct another study of livestock manure odor, but legislative leaders say it’s doubtful the money will be forthcoming this year.
Representative Nathan Reichert, a Democrat from Muscatine, is among those who argue for the study. "The point to this study that we are authorizing is to move forward with further documentation and research into the best practices of odor mitigation as it relates to livestock operations within the state of Iowa," Reichert says.
Critics contend plenty of manure odor research has been done already and it’s time to start imposing new air quality standards on the state’s largest livestock operations. Representative Mary Gaskill, a Democrat from Ottumwa, says a tourist attraction in her area is threatened by a proposed livestock operation. "I ask you what is fair about that to the citizens of my district. One neighbor wants to add a facility that’s going to take away from our economic development in our county," Gaskill says. "I think this is absolutely atrocious. I’ve thought for years we should have a moratorium. We should do something and what we’re doing today is asking for another five years…to wait!"
Records indicate that in 2005 and 2006, there were 17 different studies underway at Iowa State University that were examining manure odor. Representative Mike May, a Republican from Spirit Lake, suggests Iowans want action rather than more study. "For gosh sakes, they’re concerned about this issue and all we do is kick the can down the road," May says.
Reichert, the study’s key advocate, says it’s time for comprehensive "boots on the ground" research. "Upwards of 300 farmers across the state of Iowa, producers, will be asked to participate," Reichert says. "Everything from small operations to large operations could be included as a way of creating a body of evidence so that we can move our state forward and deal with the issue of odor mitigation as it is an issue that our state needs to find some resolution."
Representative Gary Worthan, a Republican from Storm Lake, says large-scale livestock production is part of changing with the times and critics of the industry are living in the past. "It’s easy to…listen to the folks in the black t-shirts with their protest signs and believe that Iowa has gone to ‘Hog Hades.’ Theirs is a vision of agriculture past, of a refusal to admit that the industry has passed them by and made their operations obsolete," Worthan says. "Don’t succumb to their doom and gloom predictions. Do not accept the contention that modern agriculture, our citizens and our environmental cannot exist to the mutual benefit of all."
Representative Mary Mascher, a Democrat from Iowa City, says yet another study makes no sense if lawmakers aren’t willing to act on the research in previous studies. "We have all of the research, we have all of the knowledge, we can get every kind of study you want from every other state around us and from this state as well, but if you don’t implement anything it doesn’t do any good and that’s been part of the problem," Mascher says. "We get the studies, we read them and we put them on a shelf."
But Mascher was in the minority and the bill passed on a 66 to 33 vote. It now goes to the Iowa Senate, but again, the legislation does not include the money to finance the study, just offers an endorsement of the idea.