Combating the Fallacies of Confinement
By: Amber Stutsman
Contrary to society’s perception, pork producers are committed to protecting the environment, raising animals in a safe, humane way and producing a quality product. Why? They are in fact humans too. Producers eat pork, raise families and employ community members. Considering that, there is a lot at stake for them to be supposedly sacrificing safety, pork quality and the environment.
The Des Moines Register recently featured an article “Iowa’s Hog Confinement System Isn’t Sustainable, and It’s Corroding the State.” That’s a pretty brash statement if you ask me. While it’s great people are inquisitive, and concerned about their surroundings, it’s not so great to utilize fallacies to twist public perception. We completely understand that there are multiple ways to raise swine (and other livestock for that matter). If open, outdoor lots or pasture raised pork work for your operation that’s great but that doesn’t mean it works for other producers nor does it make finisher buildings wrong.
We also understand how it’s easy to fall in love with the concept of hogs frolicking in lush green pastures with the sun shining and the warm breeze blowing. In reality, weather can be terribly harsh, unpredictable and land availability is not conducive to support pork demand.
Because modern pork production is constantly striving to be more efficient, more sustainable, and to protect the environment, even more, there is a better, healthier, and more liveable Iowa today and tomorrow.
Fallacy 1: Environmental Impacts and Minimal Oversight on Manure Management
Pork producers are doing all they can do to minimize any environmental impacts as well as maximize neighbor relations. Producers also have organizations like The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers to implement environmentally and neighbor friendly practices. Producers are planting trees and shrubs for windbreaks around properties to cut down on the odor. In turn, a natural barrier is created around buildings while putting to rest the concern from community members on confinements being eyesores. Water quality initiatives include vegetative and saturated buffer strips to maximize water infiltration and soil retention, as well as technology like bioreactors. Other odor reduction practices are also being implemented such as fan filters and pit additives.
Minimal oversight on manure application is far-fetched as well; in fact, it’s heavily regulated. Producers are required to create nutrient management plans specific to individual farms. This plan establishes manure rates that are environmentally friendly as well as agronomically effective.
When it comes to applying the manure, the DNR requires most all applicators to be licensed and annually trained. Only private applicators, farmers applying from their own buildings, with less than 500 animal units are exempt. Separation distances are also established for designated areas like residences, public areas, churches etc.
The state of Iowa has been leading the way in environmentally sound application practices too. A great example would be the push for direct injection. This not only keeps the manure off the top of the soil to prevent runoff but it places it directly into the root zone for optimum nutrient uptake. Plus, according to porkgateway.org, injection reduces odors by 90% when compared to broadcast application.
Fallacy 2: Confinements Aren’t Sustainable
Although no examples of unsustainability were listed in the article, we will call out this fallacy in the title. According to the 50-year comparison of “Carbon Footprint and Resource Use of US Swine Herd (1959-2009) Project” producers are:
- Using 78% less land
- Using 41% less water
- Leaving a 35% less carbon footprint
All the while doubling total pork production. What does this mean? Swine farmers are producing more with less.
Some producers are even harnessing solar energy to run their facilities generating 3 P’s: power, pork, and …manure. Speaking of manure, it’s a valuable fertilizer!
Fallacy 3: Inhumane
We painted the picture of a happy pig roaming rolling green pastures. Like we discussed before if you want to raise hogs outdoors and target the pasture-raised niche market that’s great, after all, we support diverse farming practices. Once again, that doesn’t mean swine raised in buildings are being horribly mistreated. I don’t know about you but a climate controlled building during a frigid Iowa winter or blistering Iowa summer seems appealing to me.
Regardless if the producer owns the pigs or if they are raising them for a company (which many are family owned by the way), animal health and wellbeing are the number one concern. How so? From a business perspective, unhealthy and mistreated livestock aren’t efficient. Ethically speaking, the majority of producers have the utmost respect for livestock. Many pork production companies have strict animal welfare policies and audits to keep employees in check as well.
We all understand there are a few that give the rest a bad rap in how animals are treated. In reality that is applicable to all forms of mankind (aka murderers, rapists, etc.).
There is one point during the article in question where antibiotic overuse was mentioned (which is occurring in human medicine by the way). Producer’s use antibiotics to treat sick animals just as you would yourself. Producers utilize many preventative practices to prevent illness in the first place; from properly formulated vaccination schedules to sanitation as well as controlling traffic of people, pigs, and vehicles to cut down on pathogens. However, even with the strictest biosecurity plans, animals can still get sick; just as people do. To make sure antibiotics are being used only when they are needed, there are regulations (Veterinary Feed Directive) that require prescriptions from veterinarians in order to purchase and administer the product.
Once again, the issue boils down to the disconnect between agriculture and society. We don’t go to the dentist to fix our broken leg, and we don’t go to the laundromat to get advice on retirement investing, so why is society taking anybody’s word on modern agriculture practices? Farmers and producers need to continue to better tell the story of agriculture to bridge the gap between consumers. On the consumer side, there must be some understanding as well. Livestock produces manure and it does in fact stink but that’s why farms are located in rural, agriculturally zoned areas. If you want to live in these areas, farm noises and smells come along with it. Think about it this way; if you lived above retail stores or next to a commercial area, would you complain about the traffic and demand change?
The pork and general agriculture industry are not out to be “bad guys”. Agriculturalists are constantly researching ways to conserve more resources, become more productive and even more protective of the environment. Not only are they driven to produce a safe food supply but by being the ultimate environmental stewards they are setting up their operation to continue for generations to come.