“Pollution”, said Uncle George, “is when a bushel of corn leaves the section of land it was raised on.”
Uncle George was George Rauenhorst, a graduate of a one-room school, a corn farmer, and a regent of the University of Minnesota.
It was Spring 1970, the first Earth Day celebration had just finished. We were at a table in the student center when someone asked Uncle George if he knew what pollution was. His answer was simple.
Pollution did not occur with working the soil. Pollution did not derive from the composition of the seed. Pollution did not happen because of the management practices for growing corn. Pollution did not depend on the final use of the corn, either food or fuel. Pollution happened, according to Uncle George, when the farmer surrendered control and sent his corn to market. The conversion of the corn to money was the source of the pollution.
Smithfield Farms, America’s largest family-owned hog enterprise has announced it will be bought by the largest Chinese food conglomerate. It offers many rich targets for environmentalists. Corn farming, large housing facilities, processing plants, manure, and transportation are all part of the company.
If a bushel of corn leaving the section of land it was raised on is pollution, then what does selling a whole company represent?
This sale could become an economic/environmental super-fund site. Part of Uncle George’s definition is that when the bushel of corn is sold any future value or ability to cover past costs is lost. So it is with Smithfield Farms.
If the family owners are allowed to cash out, the community loses all future value and the ability to recover past costs.
The good, sound business deal becomes pollution.