The candidates for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture are wading into the longstanding battle over large livestock operations. Democrat Francis Thicke says it’s time for the legislature to grant local control of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations – or CAFOs. He says the current system allows CAFOs to be built next to people who’ve lived in the country for generations.
“It turns their quality of life upside down, affects their health and affects their property values,” Thicke said. “So, I think we need to have local control so county governments can have some regulatory say in where these CAFOs are built.” Republican incumbent Bill Northey, meanwhile, believes giving county governments authority would stifle animal production in Iowa.
“It could be very arbitrary, it could be very different from county to county,” Northey said. “You could have the kind of control that may allow some projects to go through and other projects in the same set of circumstances not go through because they have more politically active neighbors.”
Northey says statewide standards provide greater predictability for livestock producers who may want to expand. In addition to granting local control, Thicke wants the state to double the distance required between existing homes and new CAFOs. Thicke says the odor from a CAFO isn’t just the manure coming from the animals.
“It actually changes considerably when it’s in this liquid manure storage. It will kill animals and workers within minutes if the ventilation goes down,” Thicke said. “So the manure that you’re smelling when you’re driving down the highway, these are toxic compounds that are created in the liquid manure slurry.” Northey says the state’s current regulations are adequate. He says increasing the separation requirements or granting local control would tie the hands of livestock producers who want to expand their operations.
“You would have everybody locally not wanting to have a building near them and in some cases, you have a farmer…their only piece of land is in range of someone else and yet you could have some politically collected neighbors that could prevent that farmer from being able to raise livestock at that farm,” Northey said.
The current separation requirement for most confinement operations is 1,250 feet from the nearest home. That’s about a quarter of a mile. Northey says the number of new CAFOs has declined over the past few years, easing tensions in rural Iowa. Thicke says he believes a Democratic legislature would approve local control if a newly elected Secretary of Agriculture pressed for the change.