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If there were a prime example of all that is wrong with modern-day agriculture, Iowa would be a strong frontrunner. In 2019, the state had 3,963 large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) — which refers to those with 1,000 animals or more — up from 789 in 1990.1 The average large hog CAFO in Iowa has at least 2,500 pigs, while some house 24,000.
As the leader among hog-producing states, Iowa had more than 22.7 million hogs in 2017, which produce 68 billion pounds of manure annually — at least 68 times the amount of fecal waste produced by Iowa’s 3.15 million residents, the Environmental Working Group reported.2
By 2021, the number of hogs in Iowa had grown to 25 million, according to an editorial by Art Cullen, editor of The Storm Lake Times,3 who noted, “To feed those hogs, we cultivate 92% of the state’s acres to grow corn and soybeans, the most of any state.”
When you add in the massive amounts of fertilizer, pesticides and waste runoff, this industrial agriculture system — which exists not only in Iowa but throughout the world — is responsible for environmental destruction and exploitation.
‘We Cannot Handle This Load’
Cullen details the atrocities of modern agriculture, which is polluting rivers and ruining water supplies. In the U.S., agriculture poses the greatest threat to water quality and is single-handedly impairing drinking water supplies across the country. The key culprits are nitrogen, phosphates and other toxins that run off from industrial cropland (i.e., genetically engineered corn and soy) and CAFOs.
In the Midwest, Iowa is at the heart of the storm, as the leader in U.S. corn and soy production and a major producer of CAFO hogs, eggs, cattle and chickens. In fact, more than 85% of Iowa’s land is used for agriculture,4 much of it bordering key waterways.
More than half (58%) of the rivers and streams in the state fall short of federal water quality standards, making them unsuitable for swimming and fishing, while another 23 percent are “potentially impaired.”5
Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources states that 92% of the nitrogen and 80% of the phosphates in waterways are the result of industrial farms and CAFOs.6 The U.S.