LET 'Livestock Friendly' isn't about family farms;

LSP didn't make mistakes in its comments

In the July 3 edition of Agri News, Minnesota Department of Agriculture assistant commissioner Perry Aasness claimed the Land Stewardship Project made "big factual errors" about his department's "Livestock Friendly Counties" designation program.

When LSP makes a mistake we correct it. But in this case we do not think we have made mistakes. We know this program is voluntary and that counties do not have to participate in it. However, once chosen by a county, will it be implemented by MDA in a benign way? The program has not been promoted by MDA to be as flexible as the assistant commissioner would have us believe.

For example, Aasness says the program does not require participating counties to loosen feedlot restrictions or remove limits on the size of livestock operations. But consider what Harold Stanislawski -- an MDA ag development specialist who travels the state promoting "Livestock Friendly'' -- told a group of hog farmers and journalists at the 2003 Minnesota Pork Expo: "Number one, a livestock friendly county is one that doesn't have moratoriums in it. Obviously if you have an animal livestock moratorium, how could you be livestock friendly? Number two, a livestock friendly county would be a county that doesn't put animal unit caps on. You can't be in the business of economic development and growth with those kinds of things."

That doesn't sound too flexible. And it could undermine democratically enacted county and township feedlot ordinances.


LSP believes a county can have sensible feedlot controls in place and be in the business of economic development. According to the MDA's own statistics, Blue Earth County has a 3,000 animal unit cap, and is second in swine. Winona County is third in dairy, and has a 1,500 animal unit cap.

Removing animal unit caps isn't about helping the average Minnesota livestock producer. A 1,500 animal unit cap is equal to around 1,000 dairy cows, 5,000 market hogs and 3,750 sows. Keep in mind that 86 percent of Minnesota pork producers have fewer than 2,000 swine, while 96 percent of the state's dairy farms have under 200 cows, according to the Minnesota Agricultural Statistics Service.

A temporary moratorium on mega-livestock facility construction is a valuable tool for local officials who need time to gather scientific and economic information on the impacts of such operations. And the fact is that some factory farm livestock operations have been found to pose a threat to the environment.

Just ask residents of Renville County, who have seen their air and water become polluted by some large-scale operations that were once promoted as "economic development."

An increasing number of local government officials are seeing "Livestock Friendly" for what it is.

Loren Lein, a Faribault County commissioner, wrote on this page several months ago that he too had examined the "Livestock Friendly" program and concluded that it was just another way to give the Minnesota Department of Agriculture control over township and county planning and zoning.

To date, despite extensive marketing by MDA staff, no county has chosen to adopt the program.

If this program is truly just symbolism, as the MDA claims, then why has so much time, money and effort been spent promoting it? Even more importantly, why are MDA officials so quick to squelch any debate on the "Livestock Friendly" issue by claiming concerned citizens are peddling misinformation?


It's an old strategy: When a program becomes difficult to defend on its own merits, just attack the people who are asking questions. Minnesotans are smart enough to see through such a diversion tactic.

-- George Boody, executive director of the Land Stewardship Project

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