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by Martha Stevens,
Martha Stevens is livestock farmer who lives and farms near Hatfield, Missouri. This article is part of an ongoing series by Martha Stevens - Straight Talk - commenting on the life and politics of farming in Missouri and the U.S. as a whole.
It now appears that there is a way for Missouri residents to have some say in governing their destiny and protecting themselves and their children from the fallout (literally!) of the mega hog factories.
The St. Joseph News Press, on October 29 and 30, had back to back articles concerning counties that had enacted health ordinances for the protection of their citizens. In the first case, a Pettis County judge ordered a hog farm to cease operation and pay two local families, neighbors of the facility, $119,000 in damages stemming from health problems they had endured due to the close proximity of the operation to their homes. The hogs in questions were being raised under contract to Cargill. The buildings were located just 700 feet from one family home, considerably less than the buffer zone required by the county ordinances, but were not under the regulation due to the "grandfather" clause.
A slightly different twist to the same subject came from Linn County where similar ordinances were enacted, resulting in a lawsuit being filed by an operation (also contract) seeking to expand by adding another 21,000 hogs to an existing, albeit much smaller, facility. While the original operation was exempt due to this same "grandfather" exemption, the expansion was not. In this case, the legality of the ordinances themselves was being challenged. The judge upheld the County Commission and their health ordinances, saying in essence that the operation must abide by the rules set forth by that commission if the operation chose to go forward with the expansion.
I commend the commissioners of these two forward-looking counties for having the guts, unlike our state legislature and agencies, to do something meaningful to protect their citizens. And they did so in a lawful, and thoughtful way. I also commend them for their foresight and the method they chose to address a serious problem. They did not say the operations could not locate in Linn and Pettis Counties. What they said was that if they chose to locate there, they would have to do so in a manner consistent to being a good neighbor, something that family farmers have always believed in.
On the front page of the October 25 issue of the Des Moines Register was an extremely interesting article along these very lines. It quoted from numerous studies of health problems associated with confinement operations across the country, including one that is ongoing by Dr. Kelly Donham, director of the University of lowa's Center for Agricultural Safety and Health. Examples were given of widespread respiratory problems for those working over two hours per day inside the buildings, and the high incidence that health workers are now seeing of similar problems. in varying degrees, from neighbors to facilities located up to five miles away. Dr. Donham is working in conjunction with Dr. Lee Friell. manager of the University Hygienic Laboratory, who described the toxicity of ammonia and sulfide that emanates from the confinement buildings and lagoons, and it's deadly nature to both humans and animals.
It was these concerns that fueled the need in Pettis and Linn counties to address the situation; it was a move in the best interest of the residents of those communities. I am a firm believer in property rights. But the property rights of one should not be allowed to infringe upon, and to endanger, those living nearby, for they, too, have those same property rights. The mega hog operations can pollute the air, land, and water inside their property boundaries if they wish, but they have no right for that pollution to leave their boundary and pollute the air, land, and water of others. Their property rights end at their boundary lines, where mine (and yours) begins. It is time that this be made abundantly clear to them, and if our elected representatives can't see the justice of this obvious truth, perhaps they should be replaced. We have a couple of years to think about that--and to tell them!
Also read other essays by Martha Stevens