The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

March 27, 2011

Our View: Proposals threaten our rights

JOPLIN, Mo. — Some Missouri legislators would have you believe they are looking out for the best interests of the family farmer by pushing for passage of House Bill 209 and Senate Bill 187.

Hogwash.

The bills would restrict the rights of citizens to seek compensation for damages caused by concentrated animal feeding operations. If those bills become law, a CAFO that is successfully sued by a neighbor or others over harm they have suffered would only have to pay the fair market value of any devaluation of their property. The CAFOs would not have to face any other damages.

Both Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany and Sen. Brad Lager, R-Savannah, have called these “nuisance” lawsuits. Along with corporate farms, they always mention protections for family farmers as well.

But it’s the family farmers who should be most concerned about what could happen if these bills pass.

The Globe, on Sunday, March 20, carried a story reporting that property owners are concerned that passage of the proposed legislation would create private rights of condemnation for hog corporations.

By the way, both legislators represent districts in northwest Missouri where hog CAFOs are operated by Smithfield Foods or its subsidiary, Premium Standard Farms. They also have received thousands of dollars each in campaign contributions from Smithfield Foods in advance of the 2010 elections, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.

It comes down to this. If these bills become law, then a property owner’s rights are at stake.

There is a better way, though, for corporate farms, which are important to Missouri’s economy, and for small farmers who have an equally important place in our state, to co-exist.

How about placing more responsibility on our own county governments?

By passing land-use ordinances closer to home, new CAFOs seeking to operate would face some restrictions as to where they could locate. It would offer them some protection from neighbors who move into areas established for CAFOs.

Of course, the way it is now, at least in Jasper and Newton counties, a CAFO can seek a permit to raise thousands and thousands of animals right next to your home.

And, there’s not a lot you can do about it. Same goes for any type of venture which ultimately could lower your land values and destroy your quality of life.

As it stands, the courts are the last line of defense property owners have against corporate farming operations that aren’t operating as good neighbors.

Why would we want to give up that right?

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