Two Missouri Measures Could Halt Local Rules Over Large Farms

A barn being built on a farm. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

Measures advancing in the Missouri Legislature would limit the scope of rules that local governments can slap on large animal feeding operations.

House lawmakers on Thursday voted 101-42 to pass a bill to give county sheriffs and federal or state agencies with authority over farms the exclusive right to inspect them.

Operations that would be covered under the proposal include facilities that produce eggs, dairy products, livestock or poultry, or the raising “of dogs or other animals that are not used to produce any food product.”

The bill by Republican Rep. Kent Haden would mean that counties couldn’t enforce health ordinances or zoning laws over certain livestock facilities, said Brian Smith, a lobbyist and organizer for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, a statewide network that works to preserve family farms, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Haden said county health officials lack the expertise to regulate the large operations, and that often local governments are biased against the facilities.

“They do not have the training, they don’t have consistency,” Haden said. “And, again, almost all of the health ordinances are designed to prohibit, not to allow.”

Republican Sen. Mike Bernskoetter is sponsoring a related bill that would ban counties from enacting rules that are “inconsistent with or more stringent” than state regulations. The proposal would prevent counties from regulating where livestock facilities are built and from adopting rules to reduce hazardous smells.

“One (bill) is saying you can’t do a health ordinance and the other is saying you can’t enforce a health ordinance,” Smith said.

Opponents argue that emissions from the large farms, which include hydrogen sulfide and ammonia, can pose health risks for neighbors.

Senators debated the measure Tuesday but took no action.

Roughly 20 Missouri counties already have health ordinances that deal with concerns about hazardous odors and downstream pollution caused by concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, according to the University of Missouri Extension.

Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said Bernskoetter’s legislation would ensure “that regulation of CAFOs is uniform across the state,” which he said would be good for business.