Factory Farm Debate Gets Smelly in Missouri

By Lesley Lammers, the Green Chamber of Commerce

Oral argument will be heard this month in Kansas City’s Western District Court of Appeals over a case that could potentially impact factory farm regulations in Missouri and other Farm Belt states. The case, Missouri Department of Natural Resources v. Missouri Parks Association, started back in 2007 when residents of Arrow Rock, Missouri, filed a lawsuit to stop a CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) of 4,800 hogs from being built within two miles of the city. Arrow Rock is a designated historic site and residents argued that the farm’s smell would turn away tourism dollars, their main source of revenue. The farm also raised concern about potential air, soil and water pollution, for which CAFOs have a reputation. The original ruling by Cole County Circuit Judge Pat Joyce prohibits any CAFOs within two miles of state parks and historic sites.

In 2009, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, appealed the court decision with the support of the Missouri Farm Bureau. This Kansas City Star editorial contends that the appeal was a bad decision, as it could have a negative effect on Missouri counties’ local control over where CAFOs can be located. As quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Koster defended the appeal by stating that Missouri needs a “unified regulatory structure so that we don’t have 500 different zoning units over agriculture.” Anti-CAFO advocates believe Koster and industrial agriculture lobbying groups’ fear is that this suit could apply to other CAFO cases in Missouri – CAFOs that might stand to be shut down or prevented from being built in the first place.

Missouri has a history of local control over agricultural siting, ever since a case in 1999 gave counties the right to regulate livestock farms. Several counties still have such ordinances in place, but the outcome of this case may put these rights in jeopardy. Major farm lobbying groups have had success in stopping other states’ local control efforts. A case in Ohio went to a state appeals court while another in Iowa wound up in the state Supreme Court.

In a similar but unrelated Missouri case last month, plaintiffs were awarded $11 million in damages from a Premium Standard Farms CAFO. The plaintiffs, mainly farming families, complained that they had to stay inside their houses due to the noxious air and cesspits that attracted large amounts of maggots. Premium Standard Farms explained that this verdict might impact their future plans to expand operations in Missouri.

Another development occurred in February, when it was announced that CAFO farmers would need to acquire new permits in Missouri in order to comply with new state and federal regulations. Federal EPA regulations over CAFOs changed in 2008, requiring CAFO owners and operators to get a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit – a permit necessary in order to meet Clean Water Act standards. Another EPA regulation change calls for CAFOs to meet the Nutrient Management Technical Standard (NMTS). This standard means in-depth phosphorus loss analysis, manure and nutrient testing of a CAFO’s soil.

In addition to these new regulations, some industrial agriculture giants like Cargill have recently tried to improve their factory farm operations. The company announced last week it has built a second waste-to-energy plant in Idaho using cow manure. While this is a step in the right direction, a GreenBiz blog points out that “it’s hard to see how this is a green announcement, instead of a somewhat-less-brown-project.”

Last week David Kirby, author of Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Pig, Dairy and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment, wrote an interesting overview of the Obama Administration’s efforts to improve factory farming. Kirby alerts us to be on the lookout for results coming out of the USDA’s upcoming National Summit of Rural America this June.

Industrial agriculture creates many hidden costs to the environment, human health, food safety, animal welfare and rural economies. Stricter regulation of CAFOs and a more sustainable business approach to agriculture is necessary in order to feed our planet in a viable, healthy manner. To learn more about this topic, check out this factory farm map created by Food & Water Watch and these related 3P posts:

Swine Flu and Agribusiness — Who Bears the Costs of the Market Externalities?
Swine Flu: Caused by Factory Farming?
The Fight Against Factory Farms Ramps Up
Smithfield Foods Phasing Out Gestation Crates

Lesley Lammers is a freelance environmental writer and regular contributor to the Green Chamber of Commerce. The Green Chamber of Commerce represents the NEW voice of commerce, one that can envision the future – a future where businesses work to protect our planet.

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