Exposing the Influence of Agribusiness in Politics

Agribusiness Lobby Fights Against Clean Water

Environment Iowa

Des Moines, IA — Big agribusiness interests are among the largest roadblocks to clean water in the United States, according to a new report by Environment Iowa Research & Policy Center. The report, “Growing Influence: The Political Power of Agribusiness and the Fouling of America’s Waterways,” was released today.

“When Wall Street runs the farm, pollution runs off into our environment,” said Jessica Buchberger from Environment Iowa. “Giant agricultural companies are throwing around millions of dollars to fight to continue polluting our rivers, lakes and oceans.”

The report included an analysis of campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures. The findings include:

  • Over the past decade, ten large agribusiness interests gave $35 million to congressional candidates – led by the American Farm Bureau, which gave $16 million.
  • Agribusiness interests gave more than $120 million to state-level candidates, party committees and ballot measures, including $250,000 in campaign contributions to Governor Terry Branstad in the last election.
  • From 2005 to 2010, the 10 leading agribusiness interests spent $127 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies, fielding 159 lobbyists in 2010.
  • Monsanto and the American Farm Bureau led the pack, fielding 80 lobbyists in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

Pollution from agriculture contributes to poor water quality here in Iowa and throughout the country.  Too many of Iowa’s waterways are so polluted that they are unsafe for fishing or swimming, and cannot maintain healthy populations of wildlife. When it comes to drinking water, the Raccoon River is one of the most polluted waterways in the country, and the water from the river must be treated extensively before making it to the homes of Iowans.

The Iowa Legislature and Governor Branstad are considering transferring the protection of water quality from non-point sources from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS). Farms are considered the most significant source of non-point pollution in Iowa. The purpose of IDALS is not to protect water, but rather to make sure that Iowa’s farms continue to succeed. Water quality issues would most likely end up as a second or third priority for this department.

On the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Legislative Priorities for this legislative session included reducing oversight by Iowa citizens on environmental protections. Currently, there is legislation going through the House that would strip the Environmental Protection Commission of its ability to write rules protecting Iowa’s air and water. There is also legislation being looked at that would give $15 million of taxpayer money to factory farms in the form of loans and subsidies, and another ruling that would block any environmental protection regulation that factory farm’s can claim would hurt their “bottom line.”

The pollution that is created in Iowa doesn’t just affect the water in the state, but rather continues to go down river and contaminate other states’ waters. The number of documented areas off America’s coasts where the oxygen is so low that most creatures cannot survive – often called “dead zones” – has increased from 12 in 1960 to 300 today. This includes the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, which covered an area roughly the size of New Jersey in 2008.

The report examined cases in which the agribusiness lobby used its political power to stand in the way of clean water. For example, agribusiness interests blocked a 2010 effort to restore Clean Water Act protections to all American waterways. Their efforts increase the likelihood that polluters will be able to contaminate intermittent waterways, isolated wetlands and sensitive headwaters streams with impunity.

The large agribusiness lobbyists backed legislation that would prevent the EPA from closing a long-standing loophole in its regulation of pesticide discharges to waterways – even though the regulation does not apply to the use of pesticides on crops.

Dave Murphy, Executive Director of Food Democracy Now, noted, “Ironically, fifty years of doing things the Farm Bureau way hasn’t resulted in more farmers, higher farm incomes or better water quality. Just the opposite,” he continued, “it’s time that our state’s elected officials started listening to different voices. What we need is real rural economic development, which starts  with clean water, a healthy environment and a sustainable income for farmers, three things that  agribusiness giants stand in the way of every time because they constantly outsource the cost of their pollution onto society and the tax payer.”

A funding bill that was voted on last week in the U.S. House included amendments restricting the EPA and other agencies from enforcing existing clean water laws and clean up efforts. Environment Iowa reported on Iowa’s Congressional Representatives King and Latham’s votes on current efforts in Congress to roll back environmental protections. Environment Iowa also urged elected officials to do more to encourage sustainable farming practices.

“Representatives Latham and King voted for dirty water by voting for the House funding bill that would bar EPA from restoring Clean Water Act protection to the streams that feed into the Mississippi River and our drinking water. Representatives Braley, Loebsack, and Boswell all stood up for the health of Iowans by voting against these dirty water amendments.” said Buchberger. “In upcoming federal legislation, we need our representatives to stand up for Iowans and the best interests of the real farmers that make Iowa a great place to live, not the big agribusinesses that take from the Iowan and give to the corporation.”