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Letter to the Editor: CAFOs in Poweshiek County

This is a significantly abridged version of a letter sent to President Kington and other upper-level administrators at the College on April 3. It does not include sections on “What is a CAFO,” “The Permitting and Regulation of CAFOs in Iowa,” “The Proliferation of CAFOs in Iowa and Poweshiek County,” and “The Harmfulness of CAFOs.”  It also does not include the bibliography of over a dozen sources cited in these sections of the original.

To: President Kington

We the undersigned, current and retired employees of Grinnell College and most of us also members of a local 501(c)(4) organization called “Poweshiek CARES” (Community Action to Restore Environmental Stewardship), are alarmed and concerned about the ongoing proliferation of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Poweshiek County. We are writing to you to call your attention to the seriousness of CAFO proliferation in our county, to argue that if such proliferation continues it will be detrimental to the College in several ways, including in the recruitment and retention of students, staff, and faculty, and to urge that the College take action to oppose the proliferation of CAFOs.

Grinnell College is highly qualified to speak out on this issue because of its tradition of standing up for social justice and given the public health expertise of President Kington. We understand that President Kington joined with Todd Linden of the GRMC in the past to express concern about this matter. We urge the College to take the following steps:

• Express concern in a letter to the Poweshiek County Board of Supervisors

• Express concern in a letter to the Grinnell Herald-Register

• Express concern to our state senator and representative

• Express concern to the Iowa DNR and the federal EPA

• Express concern to the Grinnell City Council and the Chamber of Commerce

• Make common cause on this issue with other important community institutions

•Discontinue the purchase of CAFO-raised meat by Grinnell Dining Services

The Threats CAFOs Pose to the College, the Community, and the County

It is commonly observed that while Iowa does not have dramatic coastlines, stirring mountain ranges, or cosmopolitan cities, it does offer a significant asset to its residents: a high quality of life. This was confirmed for the town of Grinnell in the report, “Building a Better Grinnell: 2012 Survey Results,” released earlier this month by the Build a Better Grinnell Task Force.

We feel strongly that CAFOs are a threat to Iowans’ quality of life. An addendum to this letter summarizes the harmful effects of CAFOs on public health, communities, and the natural environment. CAFOs are also objectionable in terms of the ethical treatment of animals.

The processes of permitting and approving CAFOs in Iowa leave us as individuals feeling—and in fact being—powerless to oppose them in our neighborhood. Communities and even entire counties are likewise powerless to protect themselves from the effects of CAFOs. The proliferation of CAFOs in Iowa and in Poweshiek County ought to be recognized for what it is: a violation of human rights.

For that reason alone Grinnell College ought to be concerned about the proliferation of CAFOs, but there are also more tangible issues at stake. The number of CAFOs in Poweshiek County is rising, and there is a real possibility that the rate will increase dramatically in the next couple of years. Numerous counties in Iowa have many hundreds of CAFOs affecting their land, air, and water. When this happens in Poweshiek County it will become increasingly difficult to attract and retain highly qualified faculty, staff, and students. One of us has commented on this in the following terms:

Having worked for Grinnell Regional Medical Center and now for the college, I am very aware of how hard both institutions (and others in town) have to work to attract and then retain highly educated professionals. As a rural community it is often difficult to attract non-rural professionals to work for our institutions—usually because of the perception of lack of resources. If we are labeled as a community with growing toxicity issues and stench this will make it even harder to attract new qualified professionals to Grinnell—an issue for all institutions seeking to fill open professional positions or grow their organizations.

Furthermore, the proliferation of CAFOs will eventually have detrimental effects on property values, and as these decline so does tax revenue to support the infrastructure necessary to maintain a community.

Author and activist Rick Bass, who will be visiting Grinnell on April 6, has written about his feelings regarding a parallel situation in the Yaak Valley, his adopted home in northwest Montana, and the threat it is facing from clear-cutting by the timber industry:

I realize that the point at which what was being done to the valley began to hurt me deeply was the time I first began to feel that I was starting to fit: that the landscape and I were engaged in a relationship. That I was being reshaped and refashioned, to better fit it in spirit and desire. That I was neither fighting this nor resisting it. As it became my home, the wounds that were being inflicted upon it—the insults—became my own.

Many of us have experienced a similar feeling as we learn about the harmful consequences of CAFOs and become involved in opposing them.

We are persuaded by John Ikerd’s (2013:3) general conclusions about the harmfulness of CAFOs:

It is not necessary to replicate these previous reviews of scientific literature to anticipate or foresee the negative impacts of CAFOs on rural communities and societies. Such reviews simply confirm conclusions that can be drawn from a logical and rational assessment of fundamental characteristics of CAFOs. Such conclusions are not unique to any particular geographic location or to any nation. The consequences are quite similar, if not identical, for the U.S., Europe, China, South America, or anywhere CAFOs locate. The economic, ecological, and social consequences of CAFOs are inherent within the fundamental structure of CAFOs.


Jon Andelson

Joan Mohan

J. Montgomery Roper

Val Vetter

Susan Kolbe

Shannon Hinsa-Leasure

Elizabeth Queathem

David Harrison

Don A. Smith

H. Wayne Moyer

Emily Guenther

Angela Winburn

Douglas Caulkins

Effie Hall

Nancy Cadmus

Vince Eckhart

Richard Fyffe

Tilly Woodward

John Whittaker

Jonathan Brown

Kent McClelland

Susan Sanning

Timothy Dobe

Kathryn Kamp

Harley McIlrath

Betty Moffett

John Stone

Robert Cabelli

Sandy Moffett

Yvette Aparicio

Alan Schrift

Elizabeth Hays

Kathryn Jacobson

Jill Schrift

Elliott Uhlenhopp

Chris Bair

Cassie Wherry

Milton Severe

Elizabeth Hill

Peter Jacobson

Mark Baechtel

Tom Moore

Deborah Michaels

Rachel Bly

Constance Gause

Simone Sidwell

Eric McIntyre

Guinevere McIntyre

Emily Moore

George Drake

Erik Sanning

John Fennell

Vida Praitis

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