Senator seeks to decrease local power in governing animal farms
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Senator seeks to decrease local power in governing animal farms

Date: April 3, 2007
By: Gavin Off
State Capitol Bureau
Links: SB 364

JEFFERSON CITY - Senate debate prevented a vote Tuesday on a bill that would essentially prohibit local governments from regulating large-scale animal feeding operations. 

The bill, supported by Gov. Matt Blunt and sponsored by Sen. Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville, would prohibit counties from adopting or upholding agricultural health regulations that are stricter than the state's standards. The act would expunge local laws for licensing and operating farms that are not identical to state regulations.

Koster touted his bill as a compromise, citing 12 new environmental protections and the backing of 20 organizations, including the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, Missouri Poultry Federation and Missouri Pork Association.

"This is truly a step forward," Koster said.

Koster's additions to the bill includes implementing new technologies and management practices to reduce odors and manage waste at animal farms.

The bill also calls for the state to give large animal farms $2 million a year of tax credits to buy odor-reducing technologies. And it allows only county governments to permit farm variances, such as reducing setbacks.

"This does have teeth in it," Koster said.

But it would also eliminate 20 county heath ordinances, governing concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs -- farms with thousands of animals.

Koster argued that allowing regulations to vary from county to county could drive ranchers and farmers out of state, to locations where laws are unified and more lenient. South Carolina, he said, watched its textile companies leave for more industry-friendly locations. Koster said many in the agricultural industry are already moving their businesses to South America.

"Some of them (ordinances) have pressed animal husbandry completely out of the county," Koster said. "Can you think of any other industry that we as a General Assembly would ask to play under 60 different regulatory structures."

Local ordinances govern everything from livestock odor to setbacks between farms and homes.

Tim Gibbons, communications director with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center said the bill does little to increase state restrictions on CAFOs and that the crisis center would oppose any bill that takes control away from local governments.

"Health ordinances wouldn't be an issue if state standards were sufficient," Gibbons said.

But Koster promoted his bill not only as a compromise, but as a would-be environmental success.  

Under the bill, new animal farms with up to 17,499 hogs or 384,999 turkeys that implement the odor- and waste-reducing technologies, would have a 2,000-foot setback from surrounding buildings. Concentrated animal farms that do not implement new technologies must have a 2,500-foot setback.

"I don't think that meets the desire of the folks who are concerned about this," said Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis County.

Even the 2,500-foot buffer is less restrictive than some county standards.

Marion County's health ordinance, for example, says CAFOs with a similar number of animals must be located one mile from the nearest dwelling.

Bray proposed an amendment Tuesday asking that the state prohibit any CAFO from being built within 10 miles of a state park or historic site. She said the state must protect places such as Arrow Rock from the water and odor problems that animal farms generate.

A farmer is seeking to build an animal feeding operation within two miles of Arrow Rock, a historic town nestled along the Missouri River.

"This is an issue that I think is really serious," Bray said. "The very livelihood of these towns feels threatened."

Senators rejected the amendment.

Koster said local control -- including restrictive setbacks -- is killing Missouri's agricultural industry, in part because each county theoretically could have its own rules for regulating agricultural operations.

Bill Stouffer, R-Saline County, said Missouri's economy is strong because of its strong agriculture. People and livestock must be able to live together, he said, adding that new animal facilities with better odor-reducing technologies should help that relationship.

"This is civil war in Saline County," Stouffer said.

That civil war has erupted in almost every Missouri county.

Four members of the Friends of Roaring River drove some four hours from Barry County to attend Tuesday's meeting. They were joined by dozens of other bill opponents.

Resident Jim Riedel said a CAFO with 65,000 chickens is proposed for a site about five miles from his home. The animal farm would also be located about a half-mile from the Roaring River.

Riedel said some Barry County residents are trying to mirror other counties and implement their own health ordinance.

Koster's bill would end that effort.

"If this passes, it's all gone," Riedel said.