On a hot, windy day in May, Liz and Garrett Perry of Waterloo, WI were disposing of scrap lumber at the Deer Track Park landfill near Interstate 94 when a featherless, debeaked hen limped in front of their pickup truck.
Oh that, said landfill workers. Hens often emerge alive from the construction bins of gassed laying hens Creekwood Farm dumps here.
In June, unwary canoers on Raccoon Creek near Sac City, Iowa paddled upon 31 dead pigs. Authorities found 100 more close by--dumped by a local farrowing operation when they died en route to the finishing facility.
Everything's fine on the factory farm--except for the products turning up on places other than your dinner plate.
And unfortunately, all the spin doctoring in the world won't help.
In Iowa, a group called Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) was launched three years ago to "grow new and existing livestock enterprises and navigate regulations and siting."
So far, it has helped farmer Andy Muff of Ventura convert his family's small farrow-to-finish farm to a contract finishing operation replete with a 1,000-head "confinement nursery" and an additional 3,000 pig spaces.
And Wendell Davison of Garner grow from a 150-sow, farrow-to-finish operation to 11,000 finishing spaces, over his neighbors' objections.
Sure farming's not like it used to be says CSIF executive director, Aaron Putze, who grew up in Kossuth County, near West Bend, Iowa and remembers when manure management was ''sloped concrete and a 3-inch rain."
But "fifty hogs and a couple dairy cows isn't going to send kids to college today,'' he says. Nor will it save Iowa agriculture.
Other homegrown Iowans who remember the sloped concrete systems but resist the trend toward megafarms, though, disagree.
"I have no problem smelling manure from our 90 head cow/calf operation or our 450 hogs. 5,000 in one yard is a different story," posts a farmer from southwest Iowa on the Des Moines Register web site. "It is a common occurrence that one of their employees will drive down the road with a full load of manure and accidentally open the back hatch dumping manure on the road for quite some distance. Or we'll see a dead steer laying in a field for a week or two eventually rotting into the earth."
"I wouldn't call a 6,000 cow dairy funded by investor money with many low-wage employees a family farm," writes a self described young Iowan farmer on his blog.
CSIF will "save family farmers by converting them into Hog House janitors," writes another Des Moines Register poster, cutting to the chase.
In fact four busloads of anti factory farm Iowans, many of them farmers, even converged on Aaron Putze's west Des Moines house in July, planting a "bad neighbor" award on his lawn.
Efforts to sell factory farming in other states aren't working any better.
In Arizona, Michael Terrill, vice president of Pigs for Farmer John recently gave a facility tour in Snowflake for a new pig farm his company wants to open over objections of farmers, neighboring landowners, environmentalists and animal advocates.
Thousands of hogs can be raised without pollution or cruelty said the veterinarian because, "If we're not taking care of that animal, they're not going to take care of us."
But would Terrill use the good-care-through-self-interest argument for hog farmers Jan and Nancy Pannekoek of Chilliwack, British Columbia who let their entire inventory of hogs burn to death twice in three years?
Or Lynn Peters of Flora, Indiana whose hog barn fire in August killed an undetermined number of hogs in the same barn where he let 3,300 hogs burn to death just six years ago?
"We'll get through this," Peters told the local paper. And hog farm again?
Martha Rosenberg is an award-winning investigative public health reporter who covers the food, drug and gun industries. Her first book, Born With A Junk Food Deficiency: How Flaks, Quacks and Hacks Pimp The Public Health, is distributed by Random (more...)