Governor Kristi Noem just used the coronavirus as an excuse to suspend environmental protections around factory hog farms.
In Executive Order 2020-17, her fourteenth executive order in six weeks dealing with the covid-19 pandemic, the Governor has suspended counties’ statutory authority to enforce limits on the number of hogs confined in concentrated animal feeding operations. Her rationale: with the Smithfield Food Sioux Falls plant closed indefinitely due to its, the city’s, and the state’s failure to take swifter action to control the coronavirus outbreak among its workforce, over 500 pork producers have lost their usual buyer and can’t clear their hog pens fast enough to make way for new piglets.
Suspending environmental regulations does nothing to stop the spread of coronavirus. Counties enforce limits on how many animals can be crowded into a CAFO to protect water quality, air quality, and public health. Noem’s latest executive order thus responds to one threat to public health by creating a second threat to public health.
The Governor also directs the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to “exert regulatory flexibility” on hog CAFOs, which translates to “don’t fine anyone for exceeding the permitted CAFO pig cap.”
Executive Order 2020-17 does tell CAFO pig producers that they “should” (the DENR gets the mandatory shall; CAFO operators just get the recommendatory should) “maintain proper soil testing and manure management protocols and diligently strive” (strive, as in try, not do) to attain the limits of all permits as soon as practical.”
Pork producers can’t tell their sows to stop making new piglets (at least not for three months, three weeks, and three days), and with 22 million Americans newly out of work and facing food insecurity, it’s a crying shame that good pork or any food be thrown away. The obvious solution here is not to stockpile hogs in unsanitary conditions. The solution here is foster farms.
Governor Noem has a “farm”, or at least a few acres that she brags about to establish her rural cred. Her brothers own much more well-subsidized land. Perhaps Kristi and her clan can earn the millions of dollars in corporate farm welfare checks they’ve received over the last 25 years by putting their land in service of the region’s coronavirus-beset hog farmers by taking in new piglets—not even the big market-ready porkers, just the little ones who are popping out with no fresh pen to porkulate—and letting them range free across their land for a few weeks. Recruit other big landholders facing further failure or Trump trade tirades and a collapse of the ethanol market to adopt truckloads of pigs to roam their land, and pay them a fee for fostering those yummy critters from the $1.6 billion Uncle Sam is sending to prop up state government. Don’t crowd the pigs; spread them out!
To further ease the overstocking, promote local processing and consumption of those pigs. Don’t wait for local meat lockers to apply for small business loans; take a chunk of the state’s business relief fund, hand it directly to the small-town butcher shops, and tell them to use the cash to buy a couple more rendering tables and hire a few idled neighbors to butcher hogs locally. Draft all those Ribfest wagon operators into public service: allow them to set up their wagons next door to local meat lockers and start making ribs for everyone (curbside pickup, of course, and line up six feet apart, please). Then, Kristi, take a bucket of ribs and bacon and pork rinds down to your private basement video studio and start cranking out public service videos telling everyone in the state to eat more local pork!
I’d much rather see thousands of free-range pigs and some state support for an alternative local pork supply chain than a temporary suspension of the few CAFO regulations that stand between us and environmental aporcalypse. Noem’s executive order shows not just her continued contempt for proper environmental management and local control but also her inability to think outside the big Butzian model of corporate agriculture.
Related Reading: JBS is shutting down its slaughterhouse in Worthington after 33 employees tested positive for coronavirus. Workers at a Smithfield packing plant in North Carolina are worried the company isn’t doing enough to protect them from confirmed cases of coronavirus among their colleagues. A Cargill meatpacking plant is Alberta’s largest source of covid-19 infections. Is anyone ready to talk about how maybe the whole factory-meat production model requires an overhaul for worker safety and public health?