We’re in a peculiar, frightening moment, and it’s not clear how long it will last. Like most people, I’ve changed a lot of my habits: going to the grocery store as little as possible, stocking up on stuff like ground beef, refried beans, rice, stock. Heading out for long walks to the few parts of Minneapolis I haven’t been to before. I’ve got a freezer fully stocked with a few weeks’ worth of locally sourced meat, mainly because there happens to be a really great butcher a few blocks away that’s still open. I’ve never taken the time to do that before. I feel pretty lucky, all things considered.

This has me thinking about Minnesota’s evironmental priorities, and why we aren’t changing them.

One example: this month, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency announced that it’s giving hog farms “regulatory flexibility” during this crisis. That means they can exceed the limits set by their permits and even increase the size of their operations -- without the MPCA’s ok. 

Here’s how the MPCA hog loophole puts our water at greater risk of pollution. More hogs means more manure. And while the new policy spells out ways to contain that manure, the whole point of a CAFO (“confined animal feeding operation”) permit is to make sure producers are doing what they say they’re doing. So now we’ll have more hogs, more manure, and no mechanism to ensure that manure stays out of Minnesota’s waters. 

Keep in mind that industrial hog operations are already a huge source of water pollution in Minnesota. And that’s when they have permits! Adding more factory farms without enforceable permits is just an open license to pollute.

No, we’re not asking farmers to make extra hogs magically disappear. We’re just asking MPCA to require larger-than-expected hog operations to document how they will keep the manure out of our water -- in a way that’s actually accountable to the public.

And we need to ask a bigger question: do we want Minnesota’s farm economy concentrated in huge industrial, polluting operations? Or can we help transition our state to a better, more sustainable way of farming?  

There are thousands of small farmers already struggling in Minnesota. I’m getting all my meat from a local butcher that sources their meat from local places, ones I can easily pick out on a map. Those are the kinds of businesses we should care about right now. But even they should have to meet basic good practices, no matter what’s happening.