In a lawsuit filed by an organization opposed to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), three farmers and two Missouri counties, a Cole County judge issued a restraining order against Senate Bill 391.

The bill would have become law Aug. 28. It is intended to prevent local jurisdictions from passing restrictions on ag operations that are stricter than state law.

The judge's order delays the bill from becoming law until at least Sept. 16 and possibly forever if the plaintiffs prevail.

SB391 passed both the House and Senate and was signed by the governor in May. In the somewhat arcane language of the state legislature, it was “truly agreed to and finally passed.”

But the lawsuit claims SB391 is unconstitutional. The basis of the suit is that the law cannot override county health ordinances.

At least 20 counties have passed ordinances that deal with particular topographical conditions — soil type, for example — and impacts on health (and consequent concerns of citizens) of the counties.

The lawsuit was filed against the governor, the Missouri Air Conservation Commission and the Missouri Clean Water Commission — the last two are associated with the Department of Natural Resources, which can issue permits without consideration of local conditions.

The lawsuit also names the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Pork Association and the Missouri Cattlemen's Association because each of these had publicly threatened to file lawsuits against counties that had adopted an ordinance in the interest of protecting the health of citizens and the environment.

SB391 was adopted in spite of the overwhelming opposition of citizens and groups representing family farmers. As noted in a previous column, the legislature seemed to be acting on the behalf of corporate agribusinesses and cast aside the concerns of constituents. 

In short, the elected officials were representing the profit interests of outside businesses and not the interest of citizens in this state.

SB391 is not retroactive. It does not contain any language that would make it so. However, it would have negated any county health ordinance adopted AFTER Aug.  28, the effective date of the bill.

That, however, is now in doubt pending final decision of the judge. In the meantime, counties that have adopted health ordinances can rest a bit easier while corporate interests cannot.

On Friday, quite a few of the organizations opposed to CAFOs are hosting a gathering at the Missouri United Methodist Church, 204 S. Ninth St. from 5:30 to 9 p.m.

While the gathering's main event is watching the film “Right to Harm,” which features family farmers describing the harmful impacts of CAFOs, no doubt much of the discussion will be about SB391 and the lawsuit.

Several prominent activists will be on the panel, including Dr. John Ikerd, now retired from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, and Melinda Hemmelgarn, who has a program called “Food Sleuth” that airs on many radio stations.

After the film, there will be a panel discussion including Ikerd and Hemmelgarn, as well as Terry Spence of the Sustainable and Responsible Agricultural Project; Tim Gibbons of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center; Susan Williams, a farmer from Cooper County; and Jeff Jones, a farmer from Callaway County and president of Friends of Responsible Agriculture.

Willams and Jones are plaintiffs in the lawsuit The panel will be moderated by Carolyn Amparan of the local Sierra Club.

So, if you want to learn more about the lawsuit against SB391and general information on CAFOs, health and the environment, please attend.

All of the folks on the panel are quite knowledgeable about family farms, CAFOs and the lack of oversight of CAFOs by the state Department of Natural Resources.


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