Premium Standard Farms, which operates swine CAFOs (contained animal feeding operations) in three northern Missouri counties, sustained a body blow when it lost a lawsuit to four families in September of last year. The families had sued over destruction of property values as a result of the CAFOs, and the jury awarded them $4.5 million.
Premium Standard Farms is a Goliath and can easily shell out 4.5 mill, no problem. The problem is that 53 other plaintiffs had, at that time, also filed suit. And if they were to prevail, more would surely follow. A few million here, a few million there. Before you know it, Premium Standard Farms could be facing a serious outlay of cash.
So the corporation took steps. It supported a bill offered last spring by Senator Chris Koster (R.–at the time, Republican–Harrisonville). SB 364 would have restricted anti-CAFO activists in two important respects.
First, it would have forbidden “nuisance” lawsuits. Indeed, Premium Standard Farms tried to sell this legislation to rural citizens as an innocent attempt to rein in city folk who come to the country and find that the normal activities of farmers don’t fit their romantic notions of country life. The said “city folk”–according to Premium Standard Farms–file nuisance lawsuits against farmers who combine at night and against farmers whose combining kicks up dust.
But while such frivolous lawsuits have no doubt occurred–rarely–the real point of SB364 was to make those loss of property values lawsuits disappear. The legislation was aimed not at city folk but at people who had lived on the land for generations.
The other agenda of the bill was to prevent local health boards from creating health ordinances that could be used to block the building of CAFOs. Currently, those county health boards are the only defense communities have in preventing the building of such farms.
Tim Gibbons of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center was one of a group of citizens who met with Koster and implored him not to press forward with the bill. Gibbons says that Koster negotiated with his group for two weeks about possible changes but never budged on the two crucial points. Those two weeks, though, gave the Missouri Rural Crisis Center the time it needed to get the word out to its constituents to pressure their Republican senators to oppose the bill. Their phone calls worked. SB364 didn’t so much go down in flames as it pooped out, if you’ll pardon the pun. It wasn’t brought to a vote, because it would have failed.
Premium Standard Farms was essentially kicked out of Iowa in 1989 for insisting on building an unlicensed CAFO near a state park. It found more fertile ground in Missouri, under then Governor John Ashcroft. Could be that Missouri, eighteen years later, is about to catch up with Iowa as regards handling this corporate predator.