UPDATE: Attorney General candidate Harris sides with property owners against feeding operations

Wednesday, July 2, 2008 | 4:17 p.m. CDT; updated 1:49 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

An earlier version of this story identified Jeff Harris' office incorrectly. He is a state representative.

JEFFERSON CITY — Democratic Attorney General candidate Jeff Harris said Wednesday that he would use the office to side with local property owners against large animal feeding operations.

Harris, a state House member from Columbia, said he would work to ensure animal feeding operations follow state laws and make the farms clean up any messes that they make. He also said that local property owners should have more say in deciding where the farming operations can be located.

Besides Harris, other Democrats running in the Aug. 5 attorney general's primary include state Sen. Chris Koster, of Harrisonville, and state Rep. Margaret Donnelly, of St. Louis. State Sen. Michael Gibbons, of Kirkwood, is the lone Republican candidate.

Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon is running for governor.

Concentrated animal feeding operations — large animal farms that house and feed livestock in confined space — have prompted contentious political debates while splitting Missouri's farmers.

According to documents from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, which grants permits to many of the farms, 529 animal feeding operations were in the state as of January 2008. Of those, just 20 were of the largest category, known as Class 1A.

The number of animals within a feeding operation varies depending on the species. For example, a Class 1A farm could have more than 3,500 horses; 7,000 cattle; 4,900 dairy cows; 385,000 turkeys; or 17,500 hogs that weigh more than 55 pounds.

Much of the controversy surrounding the animal feeding operations has focused on who should be allowed to regulate them. More than 30 cities and counties have adopted their own health and zoning ordinances designed to restrict such farms.

Supporters of those ordinances blame the farms for odors, dirty water and falling property values. They argue that animal feeding operations are a matter of local control and the rules that govern them should be decided by those living in the area.

But some of the state's largest farming groups, Gov. Matt Blunt and others contend that the local ordinances have been unreasonable and have balkanized Missouri's rules for farming. They say inconsistent rules across the state and within a county impede agriculture.

During the 2006 legislative session, Koster tried to broker a deal that traded stepped up state rules for fewer county restrictions on the feeding operations. That compromise eventually collapsed.

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