A growing majority of Iowans favors state laws discouraging the establishment of large pork operations, according to the latest Iowa Poll.

Nearly two-thirds of Iowa adults - 65 percent - say large confinements should be discouraged. That's an increase of five percentage points from February 1998, when an identical poll question was asked.

The new Des Moines Register poll, taken in late June, also shows a four-point increase since 1998 in the percentage of Iowans who think county boards of supervisors should be given more power over the building of livestock confinements, but they are still outnumbered by those opposed to giving county officials more authority.

While 41 percent believe county supervisors should be handed more power, 47 percent are opposed and 12 percent are unsure. The poll has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

A growing controversy in Iowa over the spread of large-scale livestock operations spurred the 2002 Legislature and Gov. Tom Vilsack to approve sweeping new environmental regulations, as well as a new scoring system for county and state officials to evaluate proposed confinement sites. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources makes the final decision on whether to approve a site.

"Public sentiment is moving. I think that's one reason the Legislature came up with what they did. We put a lot of pressure on them, and a lot of other people put pressure on them," says Kurt Kelsey, a Hardin County farmer and a leader of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement. The group favors total local control over livestock confinements and was disappointed that the legislation didn't go that far.

Dave Miller, an economist with Iowa Farm Bureau, says the poll's results "clearly reflect concern that a significant portion of the population has with regard to some of the problems that have been associated with various pork-confinement facilities." Those problems include odors and worries about water pollution, which he believes are largely unwarranted. Miller wonders if some Iowans' opinions spring from a “sense of nostalgia . . . that a lot of people probably would like things the way they were 25 years ago with smaller farms, and yet technology has pushed that farming into the past."

Iowa Farm Bureau objected to several of the livestock regulations that were first proposed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers last winter. The large agricultural group succeeded in winning concessions that made the final version more acceptable.
Legislative leaders said their goal was to produce a plan that eases tensions in rural areas and strikes a balance between environmental protection and continued support for the livestock industry. They said growing public concern about large-scale confinements could undermine that support.

The latest Iowa Poll, taken June 21-26, shows little variation in the level of support among groups of Iowans for laws discouraging the establishment of large pork-confinement operations. Sixty-two percent of Republicans and 65 percent of Democrats share that opinion, as do 64 percent of urban residents and 67 percent of rural residents.

"I think they're bad for the economy and bad for the environment," says poll respondent Bennett Brown, a vegetable farmer and high school teacher who lives near Cedar Bluff in eastern Iowa. “The profits tend to go out of state. They're corporate farms. They're not part of the family," adds Brown.

On the other hand, poll participant Mike Nootz of Glenwood in southwest Iowa said the livestock industry is so important to the state that large pork confinement operations should be encouraged. Iowa leads the nation in hog production.

"That's Iowa. We raise pork and we raise corn," says Nootz, 45, a locomotive engineer. "We have to be cutting-edge to compete on the world market with our products. There's no reason to have all our grain leaving the state."

The poll also didn't find much difference of opinion among most groups of Iowans concerning county control over confinements. Among rural residents, 38 percent favor more power for county supervisors, 51 percent are opposed, and the rest are undecided. However, small-town residents are more evenly divided, with 43 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed.

The livestock issue also was touched upon in a more general way in a December 2001 Iowa Poll that presented a list of 12 possible actions the Legislature might consider this year.
Seven in 10 of those polled said lawmakers should grant more local control over large livestock facilities. The latest poll frames the issue in more specific terms and makes it possible to assess shifts in public opinion over the last four years because the same set of questions was asked in 1998, says J. Ann Selzer, the Register's pollster.

Des Moines Register