Tyler Chalfant | May 11th, 2020
With many meatpacking plants in Iowa and nearby states closing or reducing operations in the face of COVID-19 outbreaks and concerns over worker safety, state officials developed plans earlier this month to dispose of hog carcasses.
According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ rules, carcasses can be buried by farmers on their land with restrictions, composted, sent to a rendering plant, or burned in an engineered incinerator. Some landfills won’t accept, or will limit how many they take. Although the Iowa Pork Producers Association has not yet seen reports of farmers culling their herds, according to John Foster, a leader in the Iowa Society of Solid Waste Operations and administrator of the Black Hawk County Solid Waste Commission in Waterloo, there could be as many as 10,000 hogs destroyed daily in the nation’s leading hog-producing state.
The COVID-19 pandemic in Iowa has highlighted the public health risks of large-scale agricultural facilities, but even under more “normal” circumstances, these facilities produce massive amounts of waste. Iowa’s 25 million hogs produce an amount of waste equivalent to 65 million humans, while 95% of America’s hogs are raised on farms which sell 5,000 or more hogs in a year. Their waste can flow into nearby waterways and floodplains, which become overwhelmed with such large populations, posing a risk to human health and the environment.