Iowa reaches ‘peak pig,’ as Trump’s policies damage the pork industry and the pork industry damages the environment

Pigs in a CAFO (concentrated animal feed operation). — photo via the United States Geological Survey, public domain

Iowa hit “peak pig” last month, according to figures just published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The state had 23.6 million pigs, an increase of 4 percent from 2017 and the most ever recorded in any state. There are only 9.4 million pigs in North Carolina, the state that ranks second in swine.

The record-setting abundance of pigs comes at a time when industrial pork farms are starting to be hard hit by President Trump’s trade policies. “U.S. pork is currently on three trade retaliation lists that have placed 40% of total exports under punitive tariffs,” National Hog Farmer explained on Monday.

China has imposed two tariffs on American pork — a 25 percent tariff in July was added to a 25 percent tariff already imposed in April — in retaliation for the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese products. Mexico, as part of its response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, put a 10 percent tariff on American pork in June. That tariff was raised to 20 percent in July.

Gov. Reynolds mentioned Mexico and Iowa pork, but not the tariff, in a press release praising USMCA, the revision of NAFTA announced by President Trump on Monday. “Canada and Mexico account for 40% of U.S. pork exports,” the press release noted.

Under the previously existing NAFTA agreement, neither Canada nor Mexico placed any import duties on U.S. pork, and the new agreement simply maintains the status quo. It does not, however, do anything to lift the retaliatory tariff Mexico placed on pork.

According to a study published by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University last month, the trade disruptions caused by the Trump administration’s 2018 tariffs will cost the state’s pork producers $776 million. “Overall losses in Iowa’s Gross State Product are calculated to be $1 to $2 billion (off of a Gross State Product of $190 billion),” the study’s author found.

Beyond being the state’s second-leading export, trailing only soybeans (which CARD estimates will sustain a loss of $545 million due to trade disruptions), pork has a substantial impact on Iowa’s environment.

In January, the Iowa Policy Project (IPP) reported, “Iowa has more than four times as many large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as it did in 2001 and over the last decade has added nearly 500 new or expanded state permitted CAFOs annually — now an estimated 10,000 CAFOs of all sizes.” The vast majority of CAFOs in Iowa raise pigs.

The IPP report listed the environmental problems caused by CAFOs, including “water degradation” due to manure leaks and spills, which “are associated with fish kills, nitrate and ammonia pollution, antibiotics, hormones, bacterial contamination, algae blooms, water quality impairments, closed beaches and are a major contributor to the ‘dead zone’ in the Gulf of Mexico.”

Numerous studies in the last decade also have documented the impact of CAFO air emissions on the health of neighbors, finding significant increases in childhood asthma, adult asthma, airway obstruction, and irritant-linked eye and upper airway symptoms. Other studies have documented negative impacts of CAFO air emissions on mood (more tension, depression, fatigue, confusion and less vigor), other psychosocial measures, and between odor and multiple quality-of-life measures. Several studies now find that property value near animal feeding operations, depending on distance, wind direction and other factors, is depressed 20 to 40 percent.

The Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club describes the state’s regulations on CAFO as “non-existent, lax, or favorable to the CAFO industry.” IPP estimates that 97 percent of requests for CAFO permits in Iowa are approved under current state regulations.

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