KENSETT | There was an unspoken yet prevailing theme Thursday night at a meeting of Worth County Against CAFOs, a citizens group whose title tells it all.
"Silence is acceptance," said Chris Petersen, a Clear Lake area farmer who was one of the main speakers at the session attended by about 60 residents at the Kensett Town Hall.
Petersen held up a map of Iowa which showed the number of CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) throughout the state. "We're filling up the space," he said.
He said out-of-state companies look to operate in Iowa because of lack of regulations on CAFOs. "We're the bulls-eye," Petersen said. "At the rate we're going, there could be a packing plant on every corner. Is that what we want? I don't think so."
He said corporate power and money have too much influence on decision making. "We're willing to sacrifice everything we've worked for in this state — our farms, our culture, our health — for the big buck," Petersen said.
The Worth County Against CAFOs group was formed because of citizens' opposition to several CAFOs that are about to be built — and, because they conform to the state matrix, there is little that can be done to stop them.
The organization targeted its message to Nathan Moretz, Travis Meyer, Ryan Meyer, Garrett Cole, Steve Wyborny "and others," according to a handout at the meeting. None were present at the meeting.
Petersen and other speakers said the most important thing is for opponents to unite and speak up. Petersen is active in an organization called the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture which is made up of several pro-ag groups. He urged people in the audience to get involved in the Alliance.
Also, audience members were told to sign petitions and put pressure on their boards of supervisors who in turn can put pressure on state legislators to put a moratorium on building any more CAFOs until improvements are made to the state matrix.
Edith Haenel of Northwood, who organized Thursday's meeting, told the group she has epilepsy and that several factors associated with CAFOs are a serious health risk to her.
"When we first learned about the CAFOs here, there was instant panic. No one knew about them. No one was happy about them.
"Worth County has a proud history of protecting Worth County," she said, acknowledging the importance of Thursday's meeting and future meetings.
She also made it clear who would be allowed to speak. "There is no time or space for anyone but those who oppose CAFOs," she said.
Paul Norland of Northwood also has family health concerns because his wife suffers from seizures that he believes will be impacted by CAFOs near his property.
He spoke primarily about his concerns about water quality and said he hoped two things would result from the meeting: educating the people on the dangers of CAFOs; and sending a message that CAFOs are not welcome in Worth County.
He compared public awareness to a situation in the car industry many years ago. "At one point there were hardly any regulations on cars," he said. Then people realized seatbelts save lives.
"The same thing with CAFOs. Years ago, we didn't pay much attention. Now we realize they are not safe. The tipping point is coming. I want to protect our people and protect our county as much as I can," said Norland.
People in the audience were from Worth, Cerro Gordo, Franklin and Mitchell counties.