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Industrial ag pollution threatens Minnesota lakes and rivers

As consumers in Minnesota, we must demand better for our food and water from the industrial agriculture companies that operate within our state boundaries.

photo of article author
Steve Schultz
Minnesota’s water is an integral part of what makes this place home. Many of us grew up frequenting one of our 10,000 lakes to go swimming, canoeing, boating, or fishing. Unfortunately, industrial agricultural pollution threatens all of this — jeopardizing our land, air, and water.

Our water, however, is under a silent threat. Those lakes and rivers we grew up on are in danger. Over the years, more and more water in the U.S. has been contaminated with bacteria, pesticides, and excess nutrients that can cause algal blooms making our water unsafe for drinking, swimming, and fishing. Summer days at the lake aren’t the same if we can’t enjoy the water.

The largest culprit? Industrial agriculture. Each year, industrial agriculture uses nearly 70 percent of all the freshwater withdrawals worldwide. And it’s not just the use; industrial agriculture farms are also responsible for dumping vast quantities of chemicals, sediments, drug residues, organic compounds, and heavy metals into our water that threaten our health.  

Today over 40 percent of our lakes and rivers in Minnesota don’t meet basic water quality standards due to farm run-off, bacteria, and other pollutants. In the southern part of Minnesota where agricultural dominates the landscape the number exceeds 60 percent of all our lakes and rivers. Summer days at the lake really aren’t the same when we’re swimming in a lake of algal blooms.

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Widespread pollution of our water was created by industrial agriculture. These companies consistently demonstrate their ability to spend millions of dollars beefing up their bottom line and certainly aren’t bothered by the small fines they face for practices contributing to pollution. They have the ability to invest in our future and embark on projects that will protect our water instead. They now have the responsibility to reform themselves and employ more sustainable practices.

Industrial agriculture operates on a global scale. Many U.S. based agriculture companies have operations in Brazil or Argentina, two giants of the industry. While reforms are needed worldwide, we need to focus on our own backyard, the place these companies call home.

There are solutions within reach and reforms in growing practices that are at our fingertips. It is up to industrial agriculture companies to not only promise those solutions, but implement and make use of them. Solutions include policies that require sustainable feed sourcing, responsible manure management, and greenhouse gas reduction targets.

Our responsibility is to make clear to the companies growing our food that polluting our water cannot continue. We – as consumers in Minnesota – must demand better for our food and water from the industrial agriculture companies that operate within our state boundaries. They must not only promise reforms in their practices, but act on that by implementing these innovative solutions to be leaders by protecting the lakes and rivers we grew up on and make Minnesota the special place it is that we love.

Mighty Earth and several co-hosts, including Clean Water Action Minnesota, will be hosting an “Our Future, Our Food” forum on Wednesday, March 27, from 7-8 p.m. at Camp Bar (490 Robert St. N.) in St. Paul. The forum will bring together a panelists of local business owners, agricultural experts, and sustainable food advocates to discuss how individuals, corporations, and policies play a role in reshaping the future of our food system to keep our air and waters clean.

Steve Schultz is the program coordinator at Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund of Minnesota.


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