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A conference in Boscobel on Jan. 20 co-sponsored by more than a dozen area and state organizations highlighted the dangers of industrial agriculture like concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

More than 200 people came from all over Wisconsin plus Iowa and Minnesota to share stories of water pollution, road damage, harm to small businesses and tourism, declines in property values, and reduced quality of life for neighbors of CAFOs.

The main speaker, Dr. John Ikerd, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri, described how industrial colonization of rural areas by multinational corporations has brought inner-city problems to rural CAFO communities.

As panelist Dr. Kelvin Rodolfo, professor emeritus, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago, noted, the special nature of southwest Wisconsin's karstic geology means that once the groundwater is polluted, it's polluted forever.

La Crosse and Vernon County CAFOs have polluted ground and surface water including drinking water and important trout streams. A proposed industrial hog slaughter facility in Viroqua will mean many more CAFOs in our area.

Participants shared ideas and possible counter measures including a statewide CAFO moratorium. As several speakers noted, this is not an anti-farmer issue. Rather, this is a movement to protect our communities, our water, our family farms, our social structures, our property values, our small businesses, our infrastructure and our quality of life from poorly regulated, polluting industries.

For more information and to view video from the conference, visit

Cathy Van Maren, La Crosse