April 5, 2007

Senate Bill 364 Could Remove Local Control of CAFO Decisions

The debate over Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO) took center stage in Scotland County more than three years ago when the Scotland County Commission enacted a health ordinance to regulate the spread of such facilities in the community.

The bill was enacted on October 14, 2004 to further regulate large concentrated animal feeding operations beyond the regulations in place through the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

Since that date the county has issued three permits for CAFO facilities in Scotland County. All three have been for hog operations.

The county was at the forefront of a movement across the state to create more local control of an issue that centers around economic growth versus health and odor concerns. The ordinance was modeled after a similar law in Shelby County, one of just 10 counties at the time to have such laws on the books.

Since that time, several other counties have passed similar ordinances. However, recently this movement has hit a snag as state lawmakers are considering enacting legislation that would prohibit counties from enacting such guidelines.

Senate Bill 364, which is currently on the Senate’s informal calendar, would prohibit any county public health order, ordinance, rule, or regulation from applying to agricultural operations.

The act protects farms and farming-related activities from suits of nuisance or trespass for any condition resulting from, but not limited to, the acts of planting, cultivating, harvesting, mowing, applying pesticides or herbicides, land clearing, livestock management, or construction of farm roads, lakes, and ponds.

Farms or farming-related activities are not protected from suits of nuisance or trespass resulting from negligent conduct.

The act removes a provision stating that state regulation of certain concentrated animal feeding operations shall not be construed as restricting local control over concentrated animal feeding operations.

The bill originally came under fire but recent concessions have brought some support for a compromise.

The coalition of agricultural organizations supporting Senate Bill 364, the Missouri Farm and Food Preservation Act, has reached a major compromise with the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC) on a substitute bill that both groups have shown support for.

As introduced SB 364, sponsored by Senator Chris Koster from Harrisonville, would protect farmers from unjustified lawsuits and limit the regulation of agriculture to the state and federal levels.

The substitute version of SB 364 still contains both provisions; however, added to the legislation are several other changes that would limit the state’s largest animal feeding operations, set up a process for county input, increase setbacks in certain cases, and create incentives for using best management practices and odor control techniques.

“The coalition of 19 agriculture organizations supporting this bill appreciates the willingness and desire of MAC to work together to find common ground on this legislation so vitally important to the future of agriculture in Missouri,” said Charles E. Kruse, president of Missouri Farm Bureau. “We initiated discussions with MAC even before SB 364 was introduced, and Senator Koster should be commended for his leadership in bringing both sides together to work out our major differences.”

In addition to protecting farmers from unjustified lawsuits and regulations, the following 10 new provisions were added with the substitute bill:

1) No new Class 1A (the state’s largest) concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in any county unless approved by the county commission.

2) Increased setbacks for new CAFOs not designated as a Managed Environmental Livestock Operation (MELO).

3) New MELO best management standards to aid in the neighbor and community acceptance of CAFOs.

4) County health ordinances regulating CAFOs remain in effect until MELO standards are developed and then the county ordinances would expire.

5) Creation of a CAFO Review Board with authority to review and have input on the Department of Natural Resources’ livestock facility permits and develop the MELO standards.

6) Increased state regulations for new livestock facilities greater than 650 animal units.

7) Increased setbacks from specified lakes for new CAFOs of any size greater than 650 animal units.

8) Increased size and expanded use of the livestock lagoon indemnity fund.

9) Authorization of state tax credits to address issues such as odor control abatement and infrastructure improvements.

10) Grandfather in existing CAFOs, which would still be required to comply with state and federal regulations protecting public health and the environment.

“Contrary to what some opponents have said concerning SB 364, nothing in this legislation, as introduced or amended, would allow farmers and ranchers to pollute the environment and ignore compliance with state and federal laws,” said Don Nikodim, executive vice president of the Missouri Pork Association. “Regrettably, those who claim SB 364 has a hidden agenda are only misleading the public!”

According to the Missouri Corn Growers Association CEO Gary Marshall, “Agriculture and county governments have worked together constructively and in good faith to find common ground. The compromises reached are reasonable and in the best interest of farmers, consumers and a continued safe and affordable domestic food supply. No American wants to depend upon foreign food like we depend upon foreign oil today.”

But the compromise has not been met with similar warm sentiments from all involved parties.

On April 2nd the Linn County Commissioners sent a letter to the staff and leadership of the Missouri Association of Counties (MAC) and the County Commissioner Association of Missouri (CCAM) requesting that they rescind the Associations’ letter of support for a proposed compromise on Senate Bill 364.

According to the Linn County letter, the commissioners are prepared to file an injunction if MAC/CCAM has not abided by existing by-laws and does not withdraw support for the bill.

“We voted on proposed CAFO standards at the MAC meeting in November, stated Linn County Commissioners, Jim Libby and Randy Wade. “At that time we were assured there would be no deviation from those proposals. But this compromise contains new language that had not been voted on, or even seen, by the majority of MAC/CCAM membership.”

The commissioners say that the Executive Director of MAC/CCAM, Dick Burke, did not have the authority to sign on to a letter in support of the compromise bill because MAC/CCAM membership did not have the opportunity to vote on it.

According to Linn County Commissioners, Jim Libby and Randy Wade, the MAC/CCAM process was not open or transparent.

“At this point MAC/CCAM should oppose Senate Bill 364 and start over with a process for next year that ensures that MAC/CCAM will work with all interested parties to reach a position that everyone can live with,” they stated.

On the other side of the fence the group Missourians for Local Control has voiced its opposition to the compromise.

The group calls the compromise a deal between industrial livestock supporters (i.e. the Missouri Farm Bureau) and a six-member CAFO task force of the Missouri Association of Counties, adding that it does nothing to address the concerns voiced by thousands of farmers and property owners in opposition to Senate Bill 364. This opposition to the bill was a result of its anti-local control and anti-property rights agenda, says the group.

These opponents of the bill state the compromise still takes away authority of local elected representatives to protect the health, welfare and property rights of the majority of family farmers, landowners and rural citizens. It also still abolishes constitutional rights of farmers and property owners to defend their property through legal challenges when the negative impacts of corporate livestock factories infringe upon their property rights.

“We have been very clear that our opposition to Senate Bill 364 is based on its blatant attack on local control and property rights,” said Rhonda Perry, livestock and grain farmer from Howard County and Program Director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center. “Simply adding fourteen pages of language about how the state is going to take care of the CAFO issue does not change the truth—this bill is about protecting corporate agri-business at the expense of local control and the property rights of the majority of family farmers and rural landowners,”

The group argues that if this bill passes, counties and their local elected representatives will lose the only mechanism they have for protecting citizens from the well-documented impacts associated with CAFOs.

Many county commissioners continue to oppose the bill.

Schuyler County Commissioner James Werner said “as county commissioners, we oppose Senate Bill 364, or any bill, that takes local control away from the counties.”

“It appears that the goal of the Farm Bureau and Senate Bill 364 is to get local government, and therefore local people, out of the way,” stated Terry Spence, livestock farmer from Putnum County. “This is an attempt to take the livestock industry out of the hands of independent and entrepreneurial producers, but we, as Missouri’s independent family farmers, cannot and will not let that happen,”

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