You’ve probably heard that once again, establishment power has sided with the folks that own and raise hogs over the other 99.7% of the people that reside in Iowa. I know, I know, knock me over with a feather. In a 4-3 decision, the Iowa Supreme Court sided with New Fashion Pork and BWT Holdings in a lawsuit (1) filed against them by some guy named Gordon Garrison who had the wild idea that water on his property, which bordered that of the defendants, should be unpolluted by the defendants’ hog waste. Gordon, just what on earth were you thinking man? I mean c’mon, talk about a big ask. As our highest state court has unambiguously acknowledged, what confinement is able to contain its pollution? Certainly not this one, they've already been fined by DNR for violating rules on manure application. You’d almost think this Gordon guy thought he lived in a first world country or something, a place where you had the right to expect clean water. And property rights?—don’t even go there. You think you have property rights, dude? If you want some property rights, then for the love of god put some freaking swine on it! Get a clue!
And after all, the water utility serving ½ million people living in an agglomeration of cities in Polk, Dallas, Warren Counties thought similarly a few years ago, and well, we know how that worked out (2).
Their park is now in crop production (3). Please pay attention, people.
But seriously folks, the ruling crystallizes (maybe we’re beyond ‘crystallizes’ at this point—petrifies?) the grip agriculture, and especially animal agriculture, has on the state’s land and its people. Stalin’s grip on eastern Europe was like a limp wrist handshake compared to our situation, which can be accurately illustrated by the late pro wrestler and enormous human Andre the Giant gripping a can of suds. Like the Ag titans, Andre knew how to celebrate his wins; he once drank 100 beers in 45 minutes. It’s not hard to imagine the New Fashion Pork and BWT boys knocking back John Deere-themed Busch Lights at some East Village watering hole while the Iowa Supremes perform their rendition of Kenny Chesney's “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” in a post-ruling celebration.
What I love most about this story is something that Todd Dorman of the Cedar Rapids paper pointed out in his July 7th column (4): “Protecting and promoting livestock production is a legitimate state interest, and granting partial immunity from nuisance suits is a proper means to that end,” this according to the ironically-named Justice Thomas Waterman. So sure, a few thousand people are employed by the livestock industry in Iowa and it’s fair to say those people need those jobs. The industry tends to grossly overstate (the lengths I go to some days to avoid saying the ‘L’ word!) its economic impact. Iowa Farm Bureau says the livestock industry is responsible for 122,000 jobs (5), whereas Iowa Workforce Development says 11,959 (6). Perhaps Iowa Workforce Development forgot to count the attorneys employed by the livestock industry to protect their right to pollute, but who knows. For what it’s worth, those jobs paid an annual average wage of $42,203 in 2019, 13.3% lower than the state average. Not sure what their attorneys earn, but I’m guessing it’s at least decent money since they are basically on a Johnny Wooden-like win streak. But I digress.
Notably, what the Iowa Supreme Court and the rest of the people that purportedly lead us have NOT stated to be a legitimate state interest is clean and safe water. Our state leaders tell us time and time again through their words, their omissions, and their actions that clean water is a luxury that Iowans DO NOT have right to.
A civilized society does not prioritize the right of a few individuals to pollute over the right of the masses to have something as basic as clean water.
- Kaufman, C. Iowa Supreme Court reverses itself, making it harder to sue hog confinements. Iowa Capital Dispatch, June 30, 2022.
- Masters, C. Judge dismisses Des Moines Water Works Lawsuit. Iowa Public Radio, March 20, 2017.
- Danielson, S. Des Moines Water Works To Plant Demonstration Crops. WHO News Radio, May 26, 2022.
- Dorman, T. Iowa Supreme Court goes hog wild on property rights. Cedar Rapids Gazette, July 7, 2022.
- Iowa Farm Bureau, Livestock Works in Iowa. https://www.iowafarmbureau.com/Livestock-Works.
- Iowa Workforce Development. 2020 Industry Profile, Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting. https://www.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/sites/search.iowaworkforcedevelopment.gov/files/documents/2018/agriculture_2020.pdf.