Ag bill pits local vs. state control

JEFFERSON CITY - For at least two years, the lagoon on Charles Sears’ Pettis County hog farm leaked, spilling 5,000 to 10,000 gallons of waste into a nearby stream each week.
calendar icon 20 February 2007
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And for two years, Sears said he asked the Missouri Natural Resources Department to help solve the problem. But department representatives never inspected the site, he said. They even skipped their mandatory annual inspection of the farm.

“The state is not doing their job,” said Sears, adding that the only state cooperation he has received was from the Attorney General’s Office.

Sears, a former contract farmer, no longer raises hogs. But his confidence in the state’s ability to regulate agricultural operations remains low.

Sears said the state does not have the personnel to properly supervise Missouri’s concentrated animal feeding operations — large farms with thousands of animals. State officials continually failed to inspect his farm, he said. Some even told him to keep quiet about his lagoon leak.

“There’s a lot of things that should be changed,” Sears said.

Nullifying existing health ordinances and taking control from local governments is not a change Sears views as beneficial.

But that’s what the state is considering.

A bill sponsored by a western Missouri senator could nullify local ordinances governing agricultural operations, giving the state nearly sole authority in regulating farming-related activities.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville, would prohibit local governments from adopting or upholding agricultural health regulations that are stricter than the state’s standards. The act would expunge local laws for licensing and operating farms that are not identical to state regulations.

The bill, supported by Gov. Matt Blunt, also gives farms greater protection against lawsuits that accuse large-scale farms of creating nuisances.

Two years ago, former Sen. John Cauthorn, R-Mexico, proposed a similar bill, which passed in the Senate but was defeated in the House. The issue has since divided Missouri’s agricultural industry, often pitting environmentalists, smaller farmers and local officials against large-scale farmers and state officials.


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