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Rural opposition to CAFOs faced two onslaughts in the latest legislative session. Led by the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, opponents of the corporate takeover of the countryside in Missouri stopped one attack and went down to defeat on the other.

For the second year in a row, Rep. Tom Loehner, R-Koeltztown, introduced the “Right to Raise Animals”, both as a statute and as a constitutional amendment. HCS and HJR 86 read this way:

Upon voter approval, this constitutional amendment, in order to protect Missouri’s agricultural economy, affirms the right of Missouri citizens to raise domestic animals in a humane manner that promotes the health and survival of the animals without the state imposing an undue economic burden on their owners. No law criminalizing or regulating crops or the welfare of animals will be valid unless based upon generally accepted scientific principles and enacted by the General Assembly.

By specifying that Missourians be allowed to “raise domestic animals in a humane manner”, the bill took a jab at the proponents of Prop C, which regulates puppy mills. It voices the resentment of many farmers, who felt that Prop C implied that rural people don’t treat their animals humanely.

I don’t think that attitude was implied by Prop C, but since rural people took it that way, CAFO opponents had to expend energy fighting a bad bill. The bill had two vague phrases (“undue economic burden” and “generally accepted scientific principles”) that would have prompted endless litigation. Had the bill become a constitutional amendment, the inane wording would have been cemented into our state constitution. A more important problem than the phrasing, though, is that the bill would have made it much more difficult to assert local control over CAFOs, because any attempted regulation would have been construed as “undue economic burden” for the CAFO owners.

'Broiler' chickens raised for slaughter

Opponents made thousands of phone calls, sent thousands of e-mails and met with legislators to explain their objections to this dangerous attempt to limit local democracy. In the last week of the session, Loehner’s bills failed to gain traction.

But the minions of the Farm Bureau won a big one in passing a bill that limits the rights of rural property owners to sue CAFOs. Shame on Gov. Nixon for signing this travesty. Here’s what I wrote about the bill in February:

A public hearing without the public. That’s the best kind, if you have a particularly (pardon the pun) stinky bill. And HB 209, which would limit the rights of Missouri family farmers, landowners and communities to get redress in the courts against CAFOs, reeks. It smells of Republicans doing exactly what government is not supposed to do–protect the wealthy and powerful, in this case Big Ag, against legitimate lawsuits from the rest of the citizenry.

The public hearing that wasn’t took place on blizzard day, last Tuesday. While hundreds of concerned citizens who’d have showed up for the hearing were hunkered down in their homes during the onslaught of ice and as much as 18 inches of snow, the House Agri-business Committee met and passed HB 209 out of committee. This bill would prevent property owners who sue CAFOs from collecting anything more than “fair market value” for any devaluation of their property. First off, once a CAFO invades a neighborhood, nobody knows anymore what “fair market value” is, since property values tend to shit a brick once one is even threatened, much less actually installed. Property owners in the historic village of Arrow Rock, who tried to prevent a CAFO from being built, were advised to get an assessment of their property immediately. It was probably already devalued, though, simply because a CAFO was seeking a license for that area.

But beyond the issue of what property is worth are other issues. What’s it worth if a farmer whose family has been on the land for six generations has to sell because the air is so bad that his family can’t go outside and enjoy picnics anymore? Or because one or more family members now have severe asthma? What’s that worth? Nothing, according to this bill. People will not be allowed to sue over health impairment or quality of life issues.

So, for CAFO opponents, is the session a draw? I can’t say that. They lost on the lawsuit bill and held their ground on attempts to limit local control. They organize and fight valiantly, but Corpublicans have all the money and well over half the legislators. Nevertheless, the people at Missouri Rural Crisis Center and their troops will go into battle again next year to protect family farmers. I respect them.

Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary