The Missouri General Assembly has set a precedent that could have dire consequences for counties and cities across the state by passing a bill forbidding local regulation of concentrated animal feeding operations.
With his signature, Gov. Mike Parson will strike down CAFO zoning and similar regulations in at least 20 counties that have implemented such ordinances.
The argument for removing local protections is to provide a consistent regulatory structure throughout Missouri. The move makes it easier for these factory farms to locate and expand near the places you live.
The decision may be coincidental to the influence of the hundreds of thousands of dollars big agribusiness companies funnel into politicians’ campaign war chests and the influence of agriculture trade groups that serve the corporate agriculture interests with the deepest pockets, but we don’t think so. The fact that Smithfield Foods — the world’s largest pork producer and a wholly owned subsidiary of WH Group of China — gave $77,000 to gubernatorial candidates in the 2016 contest and about $50,000 in other races at the least prompted lawmakers’ favorable attention.
This bill casts aside the idea that local voters and officials best know how to protect residents of their communities in favor of promoting an industry that creates massive concentrations of animal waste that threaten ground and surface waters, mar the landscape, breed clouds of flies and just plain reek.
CAFO operations have lost multiple large-scale lawsuits in the South recently, so the companies are strongly motivated to expand our way looking for a favorable regulatory environment. And they don’t want their neighbors to have anything to say about it.
This precedent is troubling for Joplin and Jasper County given that we have our own corporate stinkers that have prompted public outcry. The city of Joplin is seeking a way to fend off foul odors in the wake of numerous complaints about the stench in the city. Multiple manufacturers have been cited by the Missouri Department of Natural Resource and have been the targets of residents’ and visitors’ complaints.
The city can address the odor complaints under nuisance provisions. Better, City Council members could craft an ordinance that is specific, fair and enforceable to confront the issue. But that would all be meaningless if state lawmakers apply the same principle as the new CAFO bill, overriding local zoning and ordinances in order to favor manufacturers to the detriment of those who live, work, shop and eat nearby. Taken to its extreme, this approach could saddle any portion of the city or county with industries that would create noise, odor, pollution or other problems without regard to their effect on residents, cities or counties.
We smell trouble coming from the Legislature’s bad move.