News

Bill to limit CAFO regulations passes legislature

By Tess Vrbin
GateHouse Missouri
Posted: May. 15, 2019 9:26 am

JEFFERSON CITY — While an ongoing Senate filibuster effectively killed a House bill that would limit authority to inspect animal farming operations, a Senate bill that would limit local authority over concentrated animal feeding operations passed the legislature on Tuesday after a two-and-a-half-hour House floor debate.


The bill would prohibit local health agencies from imposing CAFO regulations stricter than state or federal rules. Currently 20 of the 114 counties in Missouri have tight CAFO regulations through local public health ordinances. State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, is the bill’s sponsor and the chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee.


"This legislation comes in response to a patchwork of arbitrary and highly restrictive county ordinances written by non-experts which has stifled the growth of modern animal agriculture operations in Missouri and, in some cases, all but halted future expansion," the Missouri Chamber of Commerce wrote in a press release Tuesday.


The bill bolsters the state’s agricultural economy by allowing "equal and fair opportunity to utilize modern agriculture practices," Chamber of Commerce CEO Daniel Mehan said in the release.


Supporters of the bill also say it encourages young adult Missourians to move back home and take over the family farming business.


The Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and Missouri Corn Growers Association also supported the bill.


Opponents of both the House and Senate bills say local control over CAFOs and other farming operations is necessary. "Tens of thousands of Missourians" opposed the Senate bill, according to a press release from the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.


"The votes on this bill clearly demonstrate the immense disconnect between the will of the people and their elected representatives in Jefferson City," the release stated.


Much of the opposition to the House bill focused on CAFOs even though they were not the focus of the bill, said state Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico and the bill’s sponsor. The bill aimed to limit the power to inspect animal farming operations strictly to state and federal regulatory agencies.


The House bill passed the Senate Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee last week but has not been placed on a Senate calendar. The Senate’s Conservative Caucus began a 28-hour filibuster from Monday afternoon to Tuesday evening in opposition to a bill that would allow General Motors to receive up to $50 million in tax credits if it invests $750 million to expand a Wentzville plant.


The filibuster means Haden’s bill is dead, but he said Bernskoetter’s bill will have "a lot of the same impact." He plans to reintroduce the bill next year.


The Senate bill passed the House with a party-line vote of 103-44, with the Boone County delegation also voting along party lines. State Reps. Kip Kendrick and Martha Stevens, both Columbia Democrats, voted no while state Reps. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland, Cheri Toalson Reisch, R-Hallsville, and Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, voted yes.


Walsh expressed her support for the bill during the floor debate. Missouri brings in $88.4 billion in agriculture, almost three times the amount of the $29.2 billion state budget, she said.


Many of her constituents want uniform statewide farming regulations, Walsh said.


"Farmland will many times run over the imaginary lines that are county boundaries," she told the Tribune in an interview. "You can’t have different regulations on one piece of your land, and then have something entirely different on the same contiguous piece of land. We must have consistency, and that’s what this bill does."


Local control over CAFOs will still exist because the bill does not prohibit all local regulations, just any that overstep state law, Walsh said.


But states with "very loose CAFO laws" struggle with dirty water and animal diseases, and Missouri could be next if the bill becomes law, said Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette.


Minnesota-based CAFO Pipestone System once said in a public meeting that it targeted Missouri because it is a "clean state," and the 20 counties that locally regulate CAFOs have kept the state clean, said McCreery, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Policy Committee.


A house within three miles of a CAFO in Missouri loses an average 6.6 percent of its property value, and a house within 0.1 miles of a CAFO loses 88 percent of its value due to smell, noise and pollution, she said.


The state should not allow foreign corporations free reign over its farmland until they move on to a state that they still consider clean, McCreery said.


"It’s a short-term way to get a boost in agriculture production, but in the long term we are damaging our state," she said.


She offered an amendment that would have allowed counties to enact CAFO regulations more stringent than state law if citizens vote to approve them. The amendment failed with a 108-41 vote.


Rep. Danny Busick, R-Newtown, said foreign land ownership is not harmful to his district or the state. His north-central Missouri district was "really dying completely," he said, until Mercer County residents convinced Premium Standard Farms to move from Iowa to the county seat of Princeton. The subsidiary of Chinese-owned, Virginia-based Smithfield Foods later expanded into Sullivan and Putnam counties, which Busick also represents. Premium Standard Farms now contributes $2 million in property taxes to six of the eight high schools in the district, Busick said.


There are more than 500 CAFOs within 15 miles of Busick’s home in all directions, he said, and the smell is not a problem even though he does not use air conditioning.


Busick’s testimony was "critical" because his district saw huge economic growth from CAFOs, Haden said.


"They were broke, and now it’s a booming area," he said.

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