NEXT: Confined Animal Feeding Operations
Confined animal feeding operations are common in Iowa, and are controversial for polluting local water supplies and allegedly helping raise "superbugs," pathogens like MRSA that are resistant to antibiotics. They are also notorious for keeping animals and their manure in tightly confined spaces—which can contribute to outbreaks of disease in both animals and humans. But a less-cited problem with CAFOs is that they make life miserable for rural individuals who have long lived in their shadow—and who have never had a say over where the facilities would be built, or how many.
"After the egg recall disaster, after the damage hog confinement has done to so many communities, people in Iowa have more complicated feelings about agribusiness than many Americans assume," Pollan told me. "They want to see concentrated agribusiness power broken up, and to regain some local say in where new animal factories are located." When I went to Clarion, Iowa, to report on August's egg recall, I found the same situation: residents who lived within a mile of the offending facilities were powerless to control the massive fly and odor problems that had developed since the CAFOs were built. Their homes have lost their value, their quality of life has been ruined, and they are stuck.
Thicke has come out in strong support of local regulations targeting CAFOs. "I want to help restore to local county governments the authority to have some say in where these CAFOs are sited," he told me. "And we need to look at how we can go further to protect rural residences—increasing the separation distances of new CAFOs from rural residences and communities, to get more protection for people out in the countryside."
In a debate with Northey this fall, Thicke made similar promises, to audience applause, saying, "It's just plain democracy." He also advocated taking animals out of confinement and "integrating them into the landscape in ways that are ecologically sound." In response, Northey disagreed, saying he is in favor of single statewide laws for CAFO zoning management. "I think it's important to protect neighbors, all across the state, with the same set of rules," he said. "A statewide system. I believe, without that ...you would have real trouble siting new facilities out there." In other words, local control would make it more difficult for big producers to site, or build, new CAFOs. In this regard, Northey's sympathies appear to be with Big-Ag producers.
NEXT: Where the Race Stands
Where the Race Stands
According to the most recent financial statements available, Northey has out-fundraised Thicke $273,590 to $60,772 in 2010—and the current difference is likely greater. But while the Thicke campaign gathers momentum—the race was within the margin of error in a recent poll conducted by his campaign—he will probably face a negative media blitz in the final days of the election. "No doubt the industry will throw a lot of money against him in the final days," Pollan said, "as they did against Denise O'Brien, four years ago." In that election, the Northey camp ads—complete with sinister slasher-movie music—branded O'Brien a "radical" with a "fringe agenda." Already, the Northey campaign has shown the financial wherewithal to air TV spots in Iowa. The Thicke camp has produced a TV ad, but cannot yet afford air time for it.
With only days left until the election, no clear victor in sight, and enormous differences in policy at stake, the Thicke/Northey battle for the nation's agriculture capital rages on. For anyone interested in food or farming, this hotly-contested race is the one to watch in 2010.