Is your pork raised in a sewer?

I like pork.

Always have.

Even when I had to earn my bacon and ham and sausage and chops by shoveling manure from the hog shed on the small Warren County farm where I grew up.

But these days I shy away from “the other white meat,” as some marketing genius tried to depict it. I still like it – but I’ve concluded that our appetite for pork is jeopardizing the health of my fellow Iowans.

That’s because the “efficient” way to raise pigs – according to the “experts” at Iowa State University and most other agricultural colleges – is to confine the animals in huge buildings, where their urine and feces fall through slatted floors into huge pits. The waste decomposes anaerobically for up to a year before being pumped out and applied to fields.

If you studied basic chemistry, you may recall that anaerobic decomposition of organic matter can produce some potent by-products: methane, hydrogen sulfide, ammonia. And why don’t the pigs die from inhaling those toxins?  Well, because modern confinements (concentrated animal feeding operations – CAFOs) use giant fans, running 24/7/365, to blow the poisonous air out of the buildings. Of course, if the power should fail, the hogs would die within minutes.

Fortunately for the swine, the air-borne toxins are dispersed outside of the CAFOs. UNFORTUNATELY, anyone living, working, or going to school in the vicinity still has to breathe those poisons.

The result? Studies have documented that a child who lives on a farm with a CAFO is nine times as likely to suffer from asthma as other Iowa youths. If the child attends a school within a half- mile of a CAFO, their chances of getting asthma increase about four times over the background rate.

Other studies have documented the release of medically hard-to-treat Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria from CAFOs.

Those are just two examples of more than 800 peer-reviewed studies outlining the human health impacts of CAFOs. To make the general public more aware of the issue, I’ve joined with Bob Watson and Dick Janson of Decorah to publish “Hog Confinements and Human Health: the intersection of science, morals, and law.” (Contact me if you’d like a paper copy of the 70-page book. No charge, but donations appreciated to cover printing and postage costs.  Or view the entire text for free online at, click on New Hog Confinement eBook)

The book has been given to each of Iowa’s 150 legislators. We hope they will read it thoughtfully.

The current way we annually raise nearly 50 million hogs – which produce waste equivalent to 150 million people – is harming you and your neighbors. Tell that to your legislators, and ask them to tighten our lax CAFO regulations. You also can start at the grassroots by introducing a party platform plank at your county political convention – Republican or Democrat. Human health is not a partisan issue.

Our proposed legislative/regulatory language:

“All hog confinement excreta and its constituent parts must be retained in the confinement between disposal events. No excreta, or its constituent parts, may leave the hog confinement either through the water pollution avenue, or the air pollution avenue, between disposal events.”

To be effective, this language should not be changed. What needs to change is the way we raise hogs – and how we deal with their sewage.

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