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Family Farmers Denounce House Bill
That Will Limit Local Control

Missouri Rural Crisis Center
Jefferson City, Missouri

HB 494

The Missouri House Agriculture Committee is attempting to pass a bill that would take away citizens’ rights to be informed when factory farm operations are coming into their communities and would limit counties&Mac226; rights to protect citizens from potential negative health impacts of industrial livestock operations. The bill “HB 494” was heard in the House Agriculture Committee yesterday afternoon.

“This bill is corporate agribusiness’ attempt to stifle public participation in the democratic process, because people have seen the impacts of factory on rural counties and they simply don’t want them in their neighborhoods. It’s nothing more than a back-room strategy for bringing more factory farms to rural Missouri without local governments or individuals even knowing about it,” Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC) Organizing Coordinator, Bryce Oates, told the Ag Committee during a hearing in the Capital yesterday. “It’s ridiculous that Missouri legislators would even think about taking away the democratic rights of local communities to take protect the health and welfare of their people and their environment.”

Numerous other Missouri farmers and rural citizens traveled to Jefferson City yesterday to testify against HB 494. This bill will make two important changes in state laws governing factory farms:

  • 1. Limits the ability of counties to pass local health ordinances that protect their citizens from public health threats from industrial livestock operations.
  • 2. Takes away the rights of neighbors and local units of government from being publicly notified when a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) is being proposed. This would limit citizen participation in the public comment and appropriate accountability process.

Unlike diversified family farms, industrial livestock operations -- defined as CAFOs -- concentrate hundreds and thousands of animals in confined facilities. This concentrates livestock manure into such a small geographical area that these facilities threaten the air, water and soil in the areas where they operate. Many of the public health impacts have been well-documented and demonstrate that CAFOs are a real public health threat for rural counties. (See information below.)

Livingston County farmer and MRCC President Bill Christison says that the best economic and environmental advantage we can give to rural communities is to support independent family farmers. “Some self-proclaimed leaders of the industry -- who do not represent the best interests of family farmers -- keep saying that we’ve got to make sure that Missouri is a ‘livestock friendly state’. What we really need is to make sure that Missouri is a family farm livestock producer friendly state. The leaders of our great state should join together with family farmers to work for fair and competitive markets instead of simply providing political cover for further corporatization and concentration of agriculture.”

“The corporations keep telling us there&Mac226;s technology to control the odors and diseases, but they cost money, and they&Mac226;re saving a lot by not building the right environmental safeguards,” Margot McMillen, a Callaway County farmer and MRCC member, told the Ag Committee. “Instead, they&Mac226;re exporting their costs onto their neighbors in the form of manure spills, fish kills and decreased property values. The best way to protect citizens is through local control of factory farms. This bill disables the rights of local communities to protect themselves, and should be voted down.”

The Facts About Factory Farms

Public Health Impacts:

According to the February, 2002, “Iowa CAFO Air Quality Study from Iowa State and the University of Iowa,” large manure lagoons pollute the air with many gases than can be harmful to human health, including hydrogen sulfide. Exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause nausea, headaches, vomiting or diarrhea, and even life-threatening pulmonary edema.

Dr. Kaye Kilburn of Utah, is one of the nation’s leading authorities on hydrogen sulfide. He claims that even one exposure to the toxin is enough to cause irreversible brain damage. And he says the operational size of today’s mega-farms is the reason they threaten public health.

In Virginia and North Carolina, state clean water guidelines indicate that a safe level of fecal coliform bacteria is 200 colonies per 100 milliliters of water. Because of CAFO pollution, some streams have levels as high as 424,000 colonies per 100 milliliters.

Most often CAFOs are contractual arrangements in which a company who does not even reside in the community retains ownership of the livestock and dictates the day-to-day management practices on the CAFO. This type of arrangement is inherently flawed, and can create an obvious lack of accountability given that the local operator isn’t making the day-to-day operating decisions on their land.

Economic Impacts:

An Iowa State study has found that family farms provide greater positive fiscal benefits on communities than factory farms do. Family farmers create 23% more total local revenue, produce 20% more net revenue for the state and pay 7% more property taxes than does one large unit of equal production.

A University of Missouri study found that factory farms create a net loss of employment because they drive family farmers and the local merchants that depend upon them out of business. 12,000 hogs produced under factory farm contracts would create 9.44 jobs (4.25 on the factory farm and 5.19 in the community), but they would displace 27.97 jobs (12.6 on the farm and 15.37 in the community).

Studies have indicated that when comparing an equal number of sows on factory farms versus family farms, the family farm system creates: 10% more permanent jobs, a 20% larger increase in local retail sales and a 37% larger increase in local income per capita.

Factory farms decrease property values in areas that surround them. According to the Iowa Attorney General, farms and communities within three miles of factory farms have had their property de-valued by 5-50% depending on the distance.

Published in In Motion Magazine, April 7, 2003

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