Letter to the Editor: We are not the problem!

To the Editor:

I’m writing to correct the misinformation and falsehoods stated by Angie Chambers about the pork industry in her February 7 “We are the problem” letter. As a northeast Iowa pig farmer, I have to stand up for myself and my fellow producers.

The Iowa Pork Producers Association and the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers strongly encourage hog producers to work with Dr. Steve Hoff at Iowa State University to properly site environmentally controlled hog barns. The coalition assists producers with site analysis to consider the location of neighbors, public use areas like parks and lakes, topography and prevailing wind directions. Potential livestock odor can be managed with proper siting and various other solutions.

What’s more, as heavily regulated as the pork industry is in Iowa already, the state requires producers to adhere to additional rules and regulations to build on karst terrain.

More than 40,000 lowans work with pigs on a daily basis and I’m not aware of any reports from the health care industry that environmentally controlled barns have caused anyone any life-threatening health issues. No pig farmers or pig caretakers are complaining that these facilities make them sick. The pork industry is committed to providing a safe work environment! If the producers and caretakers aren’t sick and dying, why would neighbors?

Ms. Chambers tried to blame the pork industry for MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus). Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacterium found on the skin of people (30% of the population) and animals. The human type can be found in humans and animals and the animal type can be found in animals and humans - it’s ubiquitous. Nasal carriage of Staph aureus is common in people with no contacts with farm animals as well as those people who do work with animals.

According to the CDC, more severe, life-threatening MRSA infections occur most frequently in healthcare settings due to human-associated strains of MRSA. The CDC has not observed a single case of livestock-associated MRSA in its nationwide surveillance.

The pork industry works closely with public health agencies to address public health concerns. It is our responsibility to not only produce safe and nutritious food, but also to protect public health and the health of the farmers who raise pigs.

As for the antibiotics reference in the letter, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves antibiotics for use in food animals to treat illness and prevent disease, which allows pigs to grow better on less feed, resulting in less waste. Antibiotics are used judiciously to help ensure food safety and human health and pig farmers work closely with veterinarians to develop a comprehensive herd health program, which may include antibiotics. More stringent FDA on-farm antibiotic use rules took effect on January 1, 2017, with the Veterinary Feed Directive, which prohibits the use of medically important antibiotics for swine growth promotion.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2016 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals clearly shows that the overall usage of antibiotics in livestock is the lowest since 2009. According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics reports, America’s pig farmers produced over five million more market hogs in 2016 than in 2009 and market weights increased by 16 pounds in that period. Those figures suggest that today’s pig farmers are using far less total antibiotics per pound of pork produced.

Protecting the environment is one of the ethical principles of pork production. It is illegal for manure to be discharged from an environmentally controlled barn to a body of water in Iowa and the “zero-discharge” law goes above and beyond any federal regulations. Iowa pig farmers are working hard to be part of the water quality solution by adopting numerous conservation practices and investing in continuous improvement programs.

Like all agriculture, science drives the pork industry. Manure is an organic fertilizer that is applied only according to crop needs. The University of Arkansas found that efficiencies of modern pork production enabled pig famers to reduce water use by 41 percent, land use by 78 percent and the carbon footprint by 35 percent between 1959 and 2009. Soil health and water quality are important to all farmers!

The pork industry can demonstrate decades of continuous improvement and farmers are investing in new odor and other technologies and research every year to grow and manage their farms responsibly. We take optimal care of our pigs and we produce safe, affordable and nutritious food in a way that protects and sustains our environment.

Iowa pig farmers care about the same things you do. We want clean air, clean water and quality living too.

Dave Johnson
Howard County


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