Iowa Legislators Debate Restrictions on Hog Farm Pollution

Published May 1, 2004

The Iowa House of Representatives held public hearings March 8 regarding legislation to regulate air pollutants emanating from hog farms. The proposed legislation is being described by supporters as a balanced approach that would address environmental concerns without unduly restricting the state’s substantial number of family farmers.

Agency Proposal Lacked Scientific Support

For the past two years, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has been pushing stringent limits on common hog farm emissions such as sulfide and ammonia. In support of the stringent proposed restrictions, the DNR has cited reports by some rural residents claiming to experience symptoms of “hog asthma,” including headaches, breathing difficulties, and odor-induced nausea.

The DNR’s proposed restrictions have been widely criticized as giving too much credence to subjective reporting of symptoms, and not enough to scientific health data. The Iowa legislature intervened last year and barred implementation of the DNR restrictions.

Legislation Defers to Scientific Consensus

Under discussion March 8 was compromise legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sandy Greiner (R-Keota), that would authorize a comprehensive three-year study of hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, and odor emanating from hog farms, and then formulate new regulations based on objective health data. Until the study is complete, Iowa would follow federal environmental standards regarding hog farm air pollution.

Environmental activists squared off against family farmers during the March 8 public hearings, with scientists and policy analysts weighing in on both sides of the issue.

Environmental activists criticized Greiner’s proposal for creating a three-year delay before the implementation of any new state-level restrictions. The activists want stringent new restrictions to be implemented immediately, before the scientific evidence is in.

“We believe this bill would effectively stop any real attempts to address the concerns of thousands of rural Iowans,” said Rich Leopold of the Iowa Environmental Council. “This bill is a stall tactic.”

By contrast, family farmers stated their interest in preserving a healthy environment and appeared willing to commit to whatever new environmental restrictions may be called for as a result of the proposed scientific study. They were, however, wary of allowing environmental activists to author harsh new restrictions that have no scientific basis and would be almost impossible to repeal even if scientific study finds them to be unnecessary.

“We’re not looking for the right to pollute,” said West Liberty farmer Mike Deahr. “Nor are we looking for a zero-tolerance environment.”

Pottawattamie farmer Chris Perdue warned that oppressive environmental restrictions without a scientific basis would force many farmers out of business without justification.

“Livestock is important to Iowa’s economy,” said Perdue. “We can’t afford to lose this industry. When it comes to making regulations, they need to be fair for everyone involved.”

Addressing concerns by University of Iowa professor Peter Thorne that scientific study would allow unfettered air pollution during the upcoming three years, Mike Triplett of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry pointed out that all Iowa farms must still meet all applicable federal standards, and that conflicting interim standards would cause more harm than good.

“It is crucial that [farmers] do not face conflicting interpretations between EPA and DNR,” said Triplett. “Our state needs to be in a position where businesses and their employees can thrive.”

James M. Taylor is managing editor of Environment & Climate News. His email address is [email protected].

For more information …

on the environmental effects of hog farming, see the three-part Environment & Climate News series:

“Hog Farms and the Environment: An Investigative Series,” December 2003,

“Hog Farms and the Environment: Alternatives to Lagoons,” January 2004,

“Science, Politics Shape Future of Hog Farming,” February 2004,