US state's corporate farms becoming targets of threats and property damage

IOWA - A dozen of one farmer's cows have been gunned down since August. Another lost a 370-head hog nursery in a January fire investigators believe was intentionally set.
calendar icon 23 March 2007
clock icon 3 minute read

Reports of vandalism to farm equipment, buildings and at livestock construction sites have been turning up across rural Iowa. Some farmers also say they've received threatening telephone calls and letters from people condemning the bigger-is-better approach to raising cattle and pigs.

The question facing law enforcement officials is whether the incidents are random acts or deliberate, orchestrated attacks by those with personal, political or social agendas.

"We don't have any trends that we've identified in the past year or two that would suggest there is any organized effort to attack factory farms or large-scale hog operations," said Jim Saunders, spokesman for the Iowa Department of Public Safety. "The reasons behind all these incidents could vary."

Since August, the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers has identified at least seven significant acts of violence and threats aimed at farmers. The majority targeted hog producers who have expanded their operations or pursued government permits to do so, but cattle producers have also been victims, said Aaron Putze, executive director of the coalition, which helps farmers meet environmental regulations.

"There has always been farm vandalism on some levels. But we have certainly noticed an escalation in the more violent, threatening types of reports," Putze said. "It could be that farmers are more comfortable reporting incidents these days. But the real question is what is the motivation behind this?"

Iowa is the nation's leading hog producer, and the industry's rapid growth in the past decade has provoked a public backlash on several fronts.

Detractors complain that large-scale hog and cattle operations threaten the environment and public health, depress property values and economically squeeze smaller producers.

As a result, opposition to corporate and super-sized operations has branched out beyond the usual suspects — animal rights activists and urban environmentalists, agriculture academics and supporters said.

"People locally are promoting a lot of anger and misinformation," said Mike Lawrinenko, a hog farmer from La Porte City in central Iowa.

Source: International Herald Tribune

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