JEFFERSON CITY — Opponents of a House bill that would limit authority to inspect animal farming operations say local control is necessary, while supporters say it would protect farmers from animal rights activists and other entities want to put them out of business.

The bill allows the state departments of agriculture and natural resources, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “and any other federal or Missouri state agency with statutory or regulatory authority” to inspect operations with livestock, poultry, dairy, egg production or dog breeding. The only local authority with inspection power would be the county sheriff, which Haden added as an amendment after introducing the bill.

The bill is one of several in the legislature that would limit local authority over concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, is sponsoring a bill that would prohibit local health agencies from imposing regulations stricter than state or federal rules. The Senate debated the bill earlier this month but has not voted on it.

The House passed state Rep. Kent Haden’s bill by a vote of 101-42 on April 18 and received a public hearing Monday in the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee, of which Bernskoetter is the chairman.

Agencies with regulatory or legislative authority should be the only groups conducting farm inspections, said Haden, R-Mexico.

“You should be able to expect that you will have someone who is objective, is knowledgeable on the issues he’s inspecting, and will not bring disease or spread disease on your farm,” he said.

Haden is a veterinarian who has worked for MFA and as a regulator for the state Department of Agriculture. The department sometimes sent him into situations where it did not have clear regulatory authority, he said, so the bill aims to clarify that the department does have this authority.

He has seen representatives from animal welfare groups show their badges to farmers and say they needed to inspect livestock despite not having the authority, he said.

Karen Strange, president of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, backed up Haden’s statement. Strange was one of seven witnesses in favor of the bill.

Fulton resident and cattle farmer Jeff Jones said he has never heard of such a scenario. Trespassing laws will hold accountable anyone who is not allowed to be on someone else’s property, he said.

Jones was one of 11 witnesses who testified against the bill. He served on the Callaway County Health Ordinance Committee, which has the money to hire qualified inspectors, he said.

Local authorities are “the boots on the ground” that know what’s best for the area, he said.

“If you tie the hands of the (county) commissioners and the local control, how is the state going to know what’s going on at my back door?” Jones said.

Not every county commissioner is familiar with CAFOs and other farming operations, but some are highly knowledgeable, said Mark Thompson, a Republican Adair County commissioner and a fourth-generation cattle farmer.

“I’m somewhat appalled by state legislators who think that county commissioners are so dumb that they can’t find sources to find where there are problems,” Thompson said.

He owns land in Iowa, where CAFOs have polluted hundreds of water sources, he said.

Missouri’s geology creates sinkholes that could enable contamination from CAFOs in groundwater, said Barbara Edwards, a retired animal breeder from Lone Jack in rural Jackson County.

Jackson County residents are wearing face masks to protect themselves from the stench from Valley Oaks Steak Company, a CAFO just over the Johnson County line, Edwards said.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, asked Edwards if she thought state control over CAFOs would help. State control “would actually be a good idea,” but local health boards and commissioners should have authority as well, Edwards said.

Sen. Justin Brown, R-Rolla, claimed opponents of the bill had “personal vendettas” against nearby CAFOs and cited Edwards naming Valley Oaks as evidence.

Edwards disagreed, saying she would have no problem with CAFOs if they did not have a negative impact on people’s health.

The bill would bring in a neutral third party that is not “biased against CAFOs” to inspect them, Brown said.

“What would stop you from getting elected to a local health board?” he asked Edwards. “You’re one vote out of however many, but (you want) to put somebody out of business just because you might not agree with what it is or you don’t like the smell. What about the majority of the rest of the people in that county?”

The legislature’s 2016 changes to the Clean Water Commission, which has a hand in regulating CAFOs, stacked the commission with those biased in favor of CAFOs, said Edward Smith, policy director for the Missouri Coalition for the Environment.

This created a “trust gap” between the legislature and the bill’s opponents, Smith said.

The Clean Water Commission approved the creation of two new CAFOs in December 2017 over opponents' concerns about smells and pollution. The votes came after then-Gov. Eric Greitens appointed three farm-friendly new members to the five-member commission.

Legislative weakening of the laws governing where farms can be built forced Shirley Kidwell to leave the Callaway County farm she lived on for 45 years, she said. She left at the end of 2018 and now rents a residence in Columbia.

“I’ve had to abandon my home because of odor and the threat of stormwater runoff from the fields around my farm,” she said.

Callaway County health ordinances have set regulations on farms that the legislature took out of state statutes for the DNR, she said.

“You’ve taken my private property rights away,” Kidwell said. “Please don’t take the rights of every rural citizen in this state away to give it to foreign entities who are coming in here and...dumping their waste anywhere they choose down our waterways, into our ponds, across our properties.”

Some opponents of the bill worried that animal cruelty laws would not be enforced because most local efforts are by city police and animal control, not the county sheriff, said Bob Baker, executive director for the animal welfare lobbying group Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation.

Supporters argued that Haden's bill would protect, not diminish, property rights.

“People should be qualified and duly recognized to enforce the rules of this state when they come on people’s property,” said Shannon Cooper, who represented the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. “That is all that this House bill does, so it is nonsense to believe we are taking away anybody’s rights.”