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New Hope in the CAFO Fight

By Diane Rosenberg
Executive Director, Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, Inc.

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Before I tell you the good news, let's briefly review a typical CAFO situation today.

When over 70 neighbors in the Batavia and Eldon area opposed a 10,000-head hog confinement in their communities, they pleaded with the Valley View Swine owners to not build. They worked with Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, Inc. (JFAN) to organize. JFAN poured over the applications to find any possible deal-breaker. In the end, the CAFOs were approved.

Fighting CAFOs in Iowa is a tough business. Iowa legislation favors industrial agriculture over residents and the environment. Although Jefferson County has been fortunate because of JFAN's organization, fighting CAFOs is still a challenging process.

The most effective way to stop a CAFO is through a costly lawsuit. Unfortunately, Iowa laws make it more conducive to fight CAFOs once they are built and causing great distress to neighbors. Often rural communities can't come up with the needed funds to mount a legal fight, and they give up.

Now Iowans across the state have hope. The Charlie Speer legal team is coming to town, joining forces with Fairfield-based attorney David E. Sykes.

Charlie Speer is an award-winning environmental attorney from Kansas City who, with his legal team of Peter Bieri and Richard Middleton of Savannah, Georgia, has been fighting factory farms for over 17 years, consistently winning multi-million dollar settlements.

In April, JFAN's legal counsel David E. Sykes, a local attorney retained by the Save Batavia Eldon group, invited Speer to join him in fighting Valley View Swine. After several meetings, both lawyers agreed to form a legal team that will bring the expertise and resources of the Speer and Middleton Law Firms to fight this case and to consider other cases in Iowa.

What makes this so promising is that cases will typically be handled on a contingency fee basis. Clients will not have to come up with funds for legal fees, and the legal team will only be compensated if they win monetary damages for their clients. That is a huge opportunity for rural communities.

Sykes is no stranger to fighting CAFOs. He worked with JFAN for eight years and represented clients opposing CAFOs for five. He will continue his ongoing legal practice in addition to his work with the Speer legal team.

Sykes talked about his experience and provided some insights and opinions as to what a partnership with the Speer legal team will mean for Iowa.

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