Secret feedlots? No

Red Wing Republican Eagle

Feedlots, including those in Goodhue County, generate their share of controversy. And we sympathize with those farmers who have been the subject of harassment — maybe even lawsuits — by animal rights activists.

But that is not ammunition enough to ask the state of Minnesota to keep information about feedlots secret.

The suggestion was passed in a formula resolution last month by the Nicollet County Board in southern Minnesota. Commissioners voted after an animal-rights group was accused of trespassing and taking photographs of dead hogs on a county farm. Compassionate Action for Animals members acknowledged conducting “animal rescues” in the past.

Board Chairman Jody Hanson, speaking on behalf of keeping feedlot data private, said, “We think we deserve obscurity because we’re part of the economic engine that’s very important to the state and is vulnerable if our location is known to the wrong people.”

We appreciate Hanson’s concern, but her proposed resolution to the nuisance visitors is a clear overreaction.

The activists cannot be ignored. Indeed, they are entitled to have their complaints investigated if authorities believe their feedlots are not adhering to state law.

At the same time, activists should not overstep their legal bounds. Individuals ought to be prosecuted if they violate that law, but the incident that occurred on the farm near St. Peter does not warrant a sweeping secrecy measure.

From a practical perspective, feedlots are not hidden or camouflaged. Anyone driving through the countryside can spot them. Those individuals determined enough to draw attention to feedlots can do so without looking them up in state records.

The bigger public concern is what controversial items would be next in line for suppression of information if feedlot data is kept hidden. Gravel pits, power lines, sewage treatment ponds — the proposals for siting such things generate enough controversy, let alone the actual operations.

Hanson says feedlots deserve the extra precaution because they are vital to the economy and their operations are vulnerable if known to the wrong people. If Hanson feels that strongly about feedlots, then why don’t we also keep secret the location of Prairie Island and the nation’s hundred or so other nuclear power plants? The foolishness of such a suggestion is apparent.

Hiding the identity and location of feedlots won’t change the minds of people who oppose these operations. But it would send a distressing signal that we should keep hush on anything that might create the least bit of controversy. The debate over animal agriculture — or any other issue for that matter — is better served by having more, rather than less, information.