Hog producer fights factory farms
A hog farmer from northern Iowa is on a personal crusade to fight factory farms and keep what’s happening in his home state from taking place in Minnesota.
Chris Petersen of Clear Lake said Iowa is on course to grow to 30 million hogs within the next three years. Iowa is the top hog producing state in the country. Most of the hogs are being raised on large feedlots.
He delivered his message Saturday at a workshop focused on water quality sponsored by the Izaak Walton League in Austin.
Petersen said just within the past 10 days he has received notice that two feedlots of 5,000 head each are being proposed in Hancock County, Iowa. “It’s industrial ag on steroids,” he said. “It’s just growing gangbusters. It’s not even farming or agriculture anymore.”
If anyone needs evidence of the devastation caused by hog feedlots, Petersen points to water quality. Iowa ranks 49th in water quality in the nation, according to Petersen. “Iowa is the worst. I do not want to see Minnesota become another Iowa,” he said.
Petersen, 62, is not opposed to livestock. In fact, he has relied on raising hogs for his livelihood for decades. He currently has about 600 hogs on his farm.
But what Petersen is against is how family farms are being squeezed out of the picture by factory farms. He pointed out that 94 percent of traditional hog farmers are gone and replaced with factory farms. “There has been a hell of a transformation going on,” he said. “Everything is being destroyed by outsiders with big money. Rural Iowa is emptying out and being filled up with feedlots,” he added.
Within a two year span in the late 1990s, nearly 40,000 hog producers went out of business, Petersen said. “The big players came in and destroyed the market and competiveness,” he said, noting that Chinese now own approximately 50 percent of the hogs in Iowa.
Petersen said his concern is the survivorship of the traditional independent family farm. “Agriculture is my roots. That’s why I’m fighting. I’m rural and I’m damn proud of it,” he said.
In addition to raising hogs, Petersen is a member of Socially Responsible Agricultural Project. He travels around the country fighting against factory farming. He hopes to spread the word and make people be a part of the solution.
Silence, Petersen said, is often considered acceptance. And he’s fighting to break the silence when it comes to feedlots. “If you don’t like it, speak up and try and change things,” he said.
He believes there is hope about changing factory farms. Petersen said he hopes agriculture will change back to more sustainability in the coming years. “People can change things,” he said, “We have the power to organize, educate and vote. We are still in control.”
Petersen would like to see a moratorium placed on feedlots. “We’re going on quite the hell raising campaign,” he said. “Rural is sick of what’s going on in rural.”
Factory farms threaten human health, pollute the environment and degrade the communities in which they are built, Petersen said. He noted the vertical integration of agriculture and the factory farming model have destroyed once thriving rural communities by systematically dismantling processing and marketing opportunities that were once available to independent family farmers.
“I’m totally embarrassed by the State of Iowa,” he said, referring to all the feedlots popping up across the state. “It’s like a stranglehold where the factories have taken over.”