Single set of rules required for Ag industry to operate

MISSOURI - Should the state legislature limit counties' ability to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations?
calendar icon 19 February 2007
clock icon 3 minute read
Under Missouri law, counties are allowed to enact zoning ordinances if the county's voters approve, but some counties have found a clever way to circumvent that requirement — the county health ordinance.

In 1997, two or three Missouri counties came up with the idea of using Missouri Revised Statute 192.300 to restrict Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. The statute, simply stated, allows county commissions or county health boards to adopt ordinances to enhance public health and prevent disease.

By claiming CAFOs were a health hazard, county officials had discovered a way to implement niche zoning to restrain animal agriculture without a vote of the people. Under this scheme, a form of zoning could be enacted by just two of the three county commissioners or three of the five health board members. The idea has now spread, and 16 counties have adopted county health ordinances to restrict or prohibit CAFOs.

With the passage of time, the ordinances have become increasingly onerous. Some require exorbitant fees; others contain nearly impossible compliance requirements. The ordinances have been shown to work, and work well. They have, in almost every case, effectively blocked new CAFO construction.

The question should be asked: Are CAFOs really a health threat to the community? On April 6, 2006, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services released the following statement: "To date, a review of scientific literature by DHSS has not documented conclusive evidence that CAFOs are a source of infectious, contagious, or communicable disease to surrounding communities."

Agriculture is Missouri's No. 1 industry. One out of every five jobs in Missouri relates to agriculture. Existing health ordinances and the threat of new ordinances have created an aura of uncertainty in our state that has put a deep chill on agricultural lending and stymied agricultural growth. The threat is real, and it continues to grow.

Animal agriculture has been the target thus far, but there is talk in some quarters of using the ordinances to also restrict certain aspects of row-crop production. The same strategy could be used to block pesticide usage, planting of genetically modified crops or even the tilling of soil that results in blowing dust.

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