Government works best when it’s closest to the people — when elected representatives can be approached by constituents, listen to our concerns, hear our policy solutions, and talk about ideas for the betterment of our communities as a whole.
For decades, Missouri’s rural counties had local control and the ability to enact health ordinances to protect farmers, rural residents and our water and air from absentee and foreign-owned concentrated animal feeding operations.
Then, at the behest of corporate agriculture and their lobbyists, our state Legislature passed Senate Bill 391 in 2019, which prevents counties from imposing commonsense safeguards and setbacks from corporate industrial livestock operations — safeguards meant to protect our farms, water and air, and property rights from corporate hog and poultry operations.
In response, three Missouri farmers, the Cedar County Commission, the Cooper County Health Board and Missouri residents sued, claiming Senate Bill 391 is unconstitutional, that it violated the Right to Farm constitutional amendment, did not act retroactively and should allow existing health ordinances to be grandfathered in, and that counties can enact protections from CAFOs that state regulations do not address.
Just last month, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that Senate Bill 391 is constitutional and that our state Legislature did indeed strip local control from rural counties, taking away a county’s right to protect the health and well-being of its residents through local health ordinances.
Now, only our state government can regulate CAFOs, and, over the last decade, Missouri has weakened our regulations for CAFOs to virtually the lowest possible. For example, CAFO waste can be spread within 50 feet of property boundaries, dwellings, schools and churches, and within 35 feet of streams. The CAFOs themselves can be sited close to our homes. An operation with under 7,500 hogs or 246,000 chickens can be as close as 1,000 feet from an existing public building or occupied residence.
After the ruling, Missouri’s newly appointed Attorney General, Andrew Bailey, was out there mischaracterizing Missouri counties and Missouri residents as causing bureaucratic tyranny.
But the truth is, Senate Bill 391 and politicians in Jefferson City are what’s tyrannous — taking our property rights and the personal rights of local communities and residents to benefit industrial livestock production and multinational and foreign corporations.
When our current Attorney General Bailey says he is successfully protecting “farmers,” he was really talking about protecting corporate agribusiness and their factory farms.
When Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said, “The Missouri Supreme Court’s ruling is a clear win for farm families and all Missourians,” he really meant corporate factory farms, not independent family livestock producers.
When Missouri Cattlemen’s Mike Deering claimed that farm and ranch families had been handcuffed by rules and regulations, he was talking about Brazil’s JBS. In reality, this ruling puts handcuffs and leg shackles on any county wanting to protect itself and our property rights from JBS.
When the Missouri Pork Association’s Don Nicodim says, “This ruling by the Missouri Supreme Court is a huge win for Missouri agriculture,” he meant Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods.
Remember almost every time these special interest groups or politically motivated politicians seeking corporate lobbyist money say farmers or Missouri agriculture, they’re talking about corporate rights, not the rights of independent livestock producers like me.
Darvin Bentlage if a fourth-generation cattle and grain farmer in Barton County and member of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.