Iowa in the eye of a storm over the future of food


Art Cullen, Editor's Notebook, Storm Lake Times Pilot (Iowa)

May 04, 2022


Cullen is the publisher and editor of the Storm Lake Times Pilot


Iowa, indeed Buena Vista County, is at the beating heart of a protein production complex that is coming under increasing scrutiny and attack for consolidation and industrialization, challenged by an unforgiving Nature that whips back at our machinations.


Just last week, The Guardian with millions of readers ran a blistering story on Rembrandt Foods for the way it exterminated five million chickens at the onset of avian flu and then canned more than 200 workers. Longtime employees who had held their tongues for fear of The Man described how the corporation abused people and birds. A woman got arrested at a Timberwolves game protesting billionaire owner Glen Taylor, whose common-man touch is not felt in the henhouse these days. The company declined comment.


Sen. Chuck Grassley and others called meatpacking executives into Congress for talks about what happens when three or four companies control 75% of our beef and pork production, supplies are captive and prices opaque. Poultry and pork are fully consolidated into corporate hands. Beef is the last bastion of the independent producer. Senators are jawing on as they have since Teddy Roosevelt put away his big stick.


Environmental advocates released maps last week showing that most deforestation that feeds a warming climate is caused by meat production seeking more acres. We are eating the Amazon rain forest under cheese and ketchup. The government in Brazil wonít stop it.


Iowa leads the world in pork and egg production, and is in the pack with beef, turkey and other meat critters. Cattle are moving back to the state as the well gets drunk dry from perennial drought in the Great Plains. Dairy, too, as California burns. Our soil is rapidly flowing down the Mississippi River to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico ó at least four times faster than Nature can replenish the soil in BV County. A growing world population demands more protein. The clock ticks on this game.


Corn ethanol complements the meat complex by throwing off dried distillerís grains as high-value livestock feed. To control its carbon emissions, the industry would like to lay pipelines across Iowa, and through Buena Vista, to bury that CO2 in North Dakota or southern Illinois holes. Most of the counties along the pipeline route are opposed to ramming it through with eminent domain (Buena Vista not among them), and it is starting to generate strong opposition. The corporate integrators of Iowa, led by Bruce Rastetter, will see to it that the pipe gets laid. So much for the government not being able to tell you how to use your land ó you may be forced to accept a fracked-oil pipeline or liquefied CO2 on your ground, but not a grass buffer. We love our illusions about free people on the land.


At the same time, private equity funds are bidding up land long held locally in Northwest Iowa, with little regard for rising interest rates.


The consolidation is clear. The effects are real on the environment and in rural decline. You donít have to travel far to see it.


There is a storm swirling around it all.


President Biden talked up anti-trust in food production during his State of the Union address. He mentioned it again during his recent trip to Iowa...