Pigs in space: Determining the environmental justice landscape of swine Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOS) in Iowa

Margaret Carrel, Sean G. Young, Eric Tate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Given the primacy of Iowa in pork production for the U.S. and global markets, we sought to understand if the same relationship with traditional environmental justice (EJ) variables such as low income and minority populations observed in other concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) studies exists in the relationship with swine CAFO densities in Iowa. We examined the potential for spatial clustering of swine CAFOs in certain parts of the state and used spatial regression techniques to determine the relationships of high swine concentrations to these EJ variables. We found that while swine CAFOs do cluster in certain regions and watersheds of Iowa, these high densities of swine are not associated with traditional EJ populations of low income and minority race/ethnicity. Instead, the potential for environmental injustice in the negative impacts of intensive swine production require a more complex appraisal. The clustering of swine production in watersheds, the presence of antibiotics used in swine production in public waterways, the clustering of manure spills, and other findings suggest that a more literal and figurative “downstream” approach is necessary. We document the presence and location of antibiotics used in animal production in the public waterways of the state. At the same time, we suggest a more “upstream” understanding of the structural, political and economic factors that create an environmentally unjust landscape of swine production in Iowa and the Upper Midwest is also crucial. Finally, we highlight the important role of publicly accessible and high quality data in the analysis of these upstream and downstream EJ questions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number849
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


  • Concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO)
  • Environmental justice
  • Iowa
  • Swine


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