Legislation that would limit who can inspect agricultural facilities stalled in the Senate last week over concerns it would protect mega farms that produce toxic waste.
The effort comes as lawmakers strive to peel back rules and parameters related to the harmful environmental and public health consequences of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. In 2019, Gov. Mike Parson signed a law that prevents counties from issuing health and safety regulations stricter than state laws governing industrial farms.
Senate Bill 254’s sponsor, Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, argued that the bill protects farmers from opportunistic animal rights activists whose goal is to “eradicate animal agriculture species by species, state by state.”
“I don’t know about the rest of you,” Riddle said. “I’m not vegan. I like to eat meat.”
But critics say SB 254 would violate due process rights for environmental watchdogs — as well as those affected by the air pollution and lagoon breaches caused by CAFOs — while adding new protections for an industry that already lacks oversight from the Department of Natural Resources.
According to a subsection added to the bill’s language, “no testimony or evidence regarding any condition or event at the grounds or facilities … shall be used in any criminal prosecution or civil case” except by the sheriff in the county the farm is located or federal and state regulatory agencies with authority over:
- The production of eggs.
- The production of milk or other dairy products.
- The raising of livestock or poultry.
- The production or raising of dogs or other animals that are not used to produce any food product.
Sen. Greg Razer, D-Kansas City, supported one underlying goal of the bill that limits access to agriculture facilities. He cited concerns over the potential of biowarfare after watching a presentation on agroterrorism last year, he said. Even so, “It is that subsection four that I have heartburn over,” he said. He also noted concerns he had about unregulated “puppy mills” being granted more leniency under the subsection’s language.
Democratic lawmakers said the bill would violate the constitutional rights of those wanting to sue for damages related to CAFOs and also prohibit expert testimony in litigation.
“I’ve never seen that in legislation for anything before,” Sen. Steven Roberts, D-St. Louis, said in an interview with the Missourian. “Just looking at it as a lawyer, I think it’s bad public policy, and it’s unconstitutional as well.”
The Senate also passed an amendment to the bill that would exclude charter counties such as St. Louis, Jackson and St. Charles and any city not within a county.
“If this is such a great bill, why are we carving out other sections of the state?” asked Sen. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis.
Riddle responded that these largely urban counties don’t have many agriculture facilities.
No other action was taken as Riddle moved to place it back on the “informal calendar,” a procedure that means it can be brought back before senators at any time.
The Senate bill is similar to House Bill 574, which passed the House in February.