JEFFERSON CITY — County ordinances on concentrated animal feeding operations will soon be bypassed if they are stricter than state regulations. The Missouri House passed Senate Bill 391 on Tuesday, which will be signed into law by Gov. Mike Parson.

Currently, 20 Missouri counties have local regulations on these large facilities, known as CAFOs.

The governor’s office called the vote a “big win for Missouri farm and ranch families.”

The House debated the bill for close to three hours, the fight boiling down to the issue of local control.

Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis, strongly opposed the bill. She cited concerns over CAFOs causing a decline in surrounding property values and negative health outcomes for children who live nearby. Another commonly cited concern was odor coming from the operations.

“Why are we so uncomfortable with letting local people decide what happens in their communities?” McCreery said.

Several lawmakers spoke in favor of CAFOs as a matter of biosecurity, citing a recent outbreak of swine flu in China. Swine flu has no known cure and is contagious and deadly to pigs. Rep. Don Rone, R-Portageville, attributed this outbreak to the farms being on dirt, in open air, rather than keeping the pigs in a contained and controlled environment.

Although representatives from the Sierra Club opposed the bill, other lawmakers argued CAFOs are a better option for water quality than traditional farms.

Rep. Greg Sharpe, R-Ewing, referenced his own experience raising livestock in an open-air dirt plot.

“When it rained all that manure went to the Mississippi River eventually,” Sharpe said. “There’s not a lot of control with those things. On these CAFOs there is, because the waste is controlled, the nutrients are put back into the ground in controlled ways.”

Many lawmakers spoke of their personal experiences with farming, referring to CAFOs as the future of the industry and a solution to food insecurity by providing low-cost, locally raised meat.

“We need to be more efficient, do more on less ground,” said Rep. Sara Walsh, R-Ashland.

Rep. Bruce Franks Jr., D-St. Louis, questioned the intentions of his fellow lawmakers who claimed to be representing their local farmers with their support of the bill. Franks said although he represents an urban district, he frequently gets personal emails from farmers outside his constituency who oppose the bill.

“I heard representatives in this same body speak for Right to Work, speak for minimum wage, speak for Clean Missouri and other things when their constituents thought differently,” Franks said. “I believe that this is one of those cases, because I hear what these representatives are saying — even the ones I respect — are saying.

“But I read those emails. I would implore everyone in this body to read those personal emails. Interact with those folks. Call them. Because not everyone in here has the right intentions.”

Supervising editor is Mark Horvit.

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