The New York Times, Dec 2, 2004 pA38 col 01 (9 col in)

Fighting for Local Control. (Editorial Desk)(Editorial)

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2004 The New York Times Company

Given the results of the election, voters' power should be strong and healthy in rural America. Perhaps it is when it comes to voting for statewide and national offices, but not when it comes to local environmental issues -- especially concerning factory farms. The latest example is Minnesota. Unlike Iowa and Wisconsin, Minnesota still retains the principle of control at the township level. Local residents can, for instance, decide whether they want a large-scale hog-confinement operation next door. That has kept Minnesota relatively free of the mammoth factory farms that have polluted Iowa.

But last year Gov. Tim Pawlenty convened a 14-member advisory group -- a virtual cross section of industrial agriculture in the state -- to find ways to increase the number of livestock in Minnesota. The task force released its report last June. Its principal recommendation is to weaken local control in order to remedy what the report calls ''the lack of predictability and uniformity'' in the creation of factory farms.

The report also advises exploring the possibility of raising the number of animals allowed on such farms before environmental reviews kick in and moving the approval process to the state capital. And it attacks Minnesota's Corporate Farm Law, which prohibits corporate farming.

The report has caused an uproar, for good reason. It's a blueprint for the destruction of family farming in Minnesota. The way to aid animal agriculture isn't to sell out to corporate interests or make rural residents feel powerless. It's to increase the diversity of Minnesota farming, build new markets and preserve rural life. Massive feedlots and hog-confinement operations do none of that.

This report is the result of a one-sided task force, whose advice was assembled without consulting a wide range of Minnesota farmers. It fosters one-sided agriculture, driven only by corporate interests. The concentration and homogenization of animal agriculture, which ultimately depends on underpriced grain, has been a social and environmental disaster in the Upper Midwest. The evidence isn't hard to find. All Governor Pawlenty needs to do is take a drive through central Iowa, where corporate factory farms are a blight on the land.