Friday, January 20, 2006

Battle Over Factory Farming in Missouri Representative of Issue on a National Level. Battles to Come

This will definitely be a national issue soon. Factory farming is an issue that will only grow and touches people from all walks of life. This isn’t only an animal rights issue. This issue also has to do with pollution, land rights, the environment, big business and family farming.

Posted on Fri, Dec. 30, 2005

Huge facilities are a sore subject

Trouble brews on farms, and it’s causing a stink


The Kansas City Star

Huge farms that confine thousands of pigs or chickens could become the biggest environmental battlefield of 2006 in Missouri.

On the one side are nearby residents and traditional farmers who see the massive feeding operations as threats to their health and livelihoods.

Dozens of opponents, and sometimes hundreds, are showing up at meetings around northeast Missouri to discuss proposed legislation that would limit the ability of their local governments to regulate industrial farms.

“You have hundreds and hundreds of people who are up in arms, leaving their farms to talk about it and raising hell with their legislators,” said Rhonda Perry, program director with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which is an advocate for the family farm.

On the other side are those who fear that Missouri agriculture could suffer from competition if the growth of industrial farms is restricted too much.

That could happen if counties are allowed to pass ordinances that are stricter than federal and state laws, they say.

“Do we want agriculture to continue in our state, do we want it to go to another state, or do we want it to go to another country?” asked Rep. Kathy Chinn, a Clarence Republican who operates an industrial farm that recently expanded.

In one sense, the upcoming battle in the legislature actually began a decade ago.

Since the mid-1990s, when Premium Standard Farms north of Kansas City was being cited for major environmental pollution, at least 12 counties have passed health ordinances to regulate such industries. Platte County was one of them. The ordinances usually increase the distance that confinement farms must locate from residences to better protect people from odors and pollution.

In the last legislative session, a bill that would have limited those types of ordinances was narrowly defeated. Many people expect a showdown in the legislature again this session over another industrial farm bill that has been drafted by Rep. Peter Myers, a Sikeston Republican.

In recent months, three more counties have passed industrial farm health ordinances and six more are considering them. In southwest Missouri, Newton and Jasper counties are considering ordinances in part because of a dispute over Moark, one of the country’s largest egg producers.

Thousands of residents have signed a petition expressing concern over Moark’s expansion plans. The state’s environmental regulatory agency recently gave a permit to the company, which had violated state environmental laws for years, to expand. Residents have filed an appeal with the state.

Commissioners in Chinn’s own Macon County are considering an ordinance in part because of her farm.

Pam Stokes, whose home is about a mile from Chinn’s farm, learned from her mail carrier last fall that construction was under way to add more hogs at Chinn’s farm.

Stokes says studies show large industrial farms can be hazardous to nearby residents’ health by spreading microorganisms from fecal matter through the air and water. A lifelong Republican who is now considering a change to the Democratic Party, Stokes says Chinn is refusing to listen to her constituents.

Stokes and her neighbors have formed the Citizens Against a Polluted Environment.

“There are several people who are going to work very hard to make sure she is not re-elected,” Stokes said. “People in Macon County are mad as hell.”

Opponents’ biggest complaint is that state and federal laws allow an industrial farm with an unlimited number of livestock to locate within a half-mile of a residence.

Local health ordinances that have passed or are being considered mostly extend that buffer to at least a mile from a residence. They often require better manure management and a large bond to be paid for future environmental cleanup if necessary.

The Missouri Rural Crisis Center says a large industrial farm with thousands of pigs or other livestock could generate as much waste as the city of St. Louis and would be “located within 3,000 feet of a residence.”

“We are trying to put in some simple health and environmental regulations that protect the family farm,” said Beau Hicks, director of tourism for Hannibal, who has helped organize one of the two groups in northeast Missouri supporting local control.

A lifelong Republican, Hicks switched parties recently and is running for state representative. He switched in part because he thinks some elected Republicans who are pushing the proposed bill are violating a basic tenet of their party, local control.

“I said, ‘Wait a minute, a Republican wrote this?’” Hicks said. “On any other issue we are all for local control.”

Myers, sponsor of the bill, said it doesn’t violate Republican principles because it doesn’t prohibit commissioners from passing an ordinance, only lays out steps they must follow before they can.

Indeed, Myers doesn’t see the controversy as a political one.

“There is a lot of emotionalism — it’s all about hogs smelling,” he said. “It’s also about stifling enterprise in Missouri…people feel very strongly on both sides.”

At any rate, opponents will have a hard go because they face one of the strongest political forces in the state, the Missouri Farm Bureau, which has offices in most of the state’s counties.

The Farm Bureau policy opposing the use of county health ordinances to regulate industrial farms was just reaffirmed this month by the bureau’s 500 voting delegates, said Leslie Holloway, the bureau’s lobbyist.

The county bureau directors have been visiting county commissioners to inform them of the bureau’s position.

Holloway said industrial farms got a bad rap since the 1990s.

“We don’t defend violators,” Holloway said. “For the most part people who are familiar with livestock operations know that most of them are meeting the state and federal regulations.”

Missouri has about 400 industrial farms that are regulated by the state.

Holloway also said many people have received information about industrial farms that is misleading, creating the backlash. For example, most industrial farms are nowhere near as large as Premium Standard Farms.

First glance

■ A proposed bill would limit Missouri counties in their efforts to further restrict industrial farms.

■ Opponents of the bill are already meeting across the state to talk about defeating it.

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