Circus moves on, leaving a nasty smell

RUPERT CORNWELL

Winterset, Iowa

The caucuses are over and aspiring Republican presidents are gone. Behind them, they leave what are politely known as anaerobic lagoons - giant stinking lakes of sewage from huge indoor pig-rearing plants which have been the real controversy in the state these past 12 months.

In recent years, vast "hog confinement units" have become a staple of the Iowa landscape, long structures containing thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of animals. Nature being what it is, however, pigs (or hogs as they are known in these parts) produce waste, a grown one more than an adult human. So where to put the stuff?

The answer has been the manure lagoons, vast holding ponds of excrement, lined with clay and producing odours across the neighbouring countryside that require no description. Then, last summer, some of the lagoons burst. In one case, 1.5 million gallons of manure found its way into the Iowa river, polluting 40 miles of water and slaughtering fish.

The result was uproar, and pressure intensified to tighten state laws governing the pig mega-farms. But the problem will not be easily solved. The clamour reflects a sad and perhaps irreversible fact of life - that the small independent family farm, once picture-postcard symbol of the values and virtues of the American Mid-West, is an institution facing extinction.

These days, they are being muscled aside by giant conglomerates, or simply folded into them. The Iowa of Field of Dreams and The Bridges of Madison County may appear hog and corn heaven. In fact, only 10 per cent of the state's 2.8 million people live on farms. Iowa exports more industrial goods than agricultural products.

Battered by the farm crisis of the 1980s, and unable to match the economies of scale of the producers, many family farms had no choice but to sign up with the food processors. In doing so, the link between farmers and their land has been broken. They have been turned into subcontractors, suppliers of raw materials in quantities and at prices dictated by others. Hence the colossal "hog confinement units".

But they do provide jobs of a kind. Make life tougher for "Big Pork", Iowa's Republican Governor Terry Branstad has warned, and the business will simply take off for places like the south-eastern US, eager to attract new business and less squeamish about nasty smells. Thus would the decay of Iowa's traditional agriculture merely be hastened.

Not surprisingly, the presidential candidates have mostly ducked the issue. The rise of vertically integrated agri-business concerns like Cargill, Ralston-Purina, and Archer Daniels Midland has been in part due to farm legislation by Congress. Bob Dole, from rural Kansas and often dubbed "the Senator from ADM," has been notably quiet on the pig wars. Pressed on the issue, Steve Forbes insists the problem "is for the state of Iowa to decide" - reasonable enough for a man who has declared war on meddling by the "Jurassic Park" that is Washington DC, but weasel words nonetheless.

Only Pat Buchanan has spoken out forthrightly, calling the giant hog confinement areas "factories, not farms". Therein perhaps lies hope for opponents: if the places can be defined as factories, they will become liable to much stricter industrial pollution rules. Meantime, Mr Buchanan's sympathy for the old-fashioned farmer may be one reason for his apparent success here.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
Valerie Trierweiler’s book paints Hollande as a cold-hearted hypocrite
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1
filmsMockingjay Part 1 taking hit franchise to new levels
Life and Style
techSweet Peach says scent 'shows more important things are working'
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: HAMPSHIRE MARKET TOWN - A highly attr...

Ashdown Group: IT Systems Analyst / Application Support Engineer (ERP / SSRS)

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Ashdown Group: Junior Reports Developer / Application Support Engineer

£23000 - £30000 per annum + pension, 25days holiday: Ashdown Group: An industr...

Recruitment Genius: Client Support Officer

£10 - £11 per hour: Recruitment Genius: The candidate must be committed, engag...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible