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Whose Future Is It? (continued)

by Darvin Bentlage

As a new year begins it is important to look back at the politics of the last; the legislature changing the intent of the Puppy Mill Proposition B.; ignoring the vote of the people and taking away any benefits for the dogs is irresponsible. In 2011 through a ballot initiative, Prop B was put on the Missouri Ballot and was passed by the citizens of Missouri. This initiative’s intent was stronger regulation and enforcement of Puppy Mills to insure humane treatment of the animals (dogs). Within a few months of passing Prop B the state legislator dramatically changed the language of the proposition essentially overturning the proposition and ignoring the voice of the voters.

Add to that a new law by the Missouri legislature limiting property rights (SB 187). In laymen’s terms this state bill drastically limits citizens/property owners from suing Animal Feeding Operations on issues such as odors emanating from the CAFOs. These law suits are now considered frivolous and will no longer be subject to litigation. The reasoning for this law is the claim that “out of state lawyers” are suing Animal Feeding Operations. The lawyers are from Kansas City, Missouri and they are representing Missouri farmers, landowners, and citizens.

Hog operations come to Missouri because of the lax rules governing them and enforcement of the rules being virtually nonexistent. Now the General Assembly is protecting them even more by making sure that citizens will not be able to claim that their right to enjoy or use their property has been violated. Now a neighbors’ only compensation from the now permanent nuisance will be the devaluation of their property. And this will benefit Missouri?

Our existence is only worth the price of the dirt we own. With SB 187, there’s no American Dream for rural citizens just the corporate nightmare. Our government seems to be more intent on taking our independent rights away than in protecting our rights.

Big Agriculture claims that this is the future of agriculture. We have always had changes in the operation of farms. The mold board plow, the mechanical revolution that allowed us to produce on more acres brought changes in conservation to allow us to be good stewards. The advancement in chemicals such as fertilizer and herbicides brought regulations to protect the applicators, farmers, and also the environment to make them safe to use. The advancement in seed research improved yields and quality to fight insects and disease. The seeds were always patented and farmers that bought the seed had the right to plant the seeds produced back on the farm.

Now we see the corporate effect when Monsanto produced GMO seeds. Farmers no longer have the right to use the seeds produced on their farms since Monsanto has been allowed to sue farmers and independent seed cleaners mercilessly to the point that the farmers are forced out of business, with the blessing of our legislature and the farm organizations claiming to represent family farmers. No one knows what the future brings, but we have never seen rural citizens brought under such ferocious attacks until corporate profits became an issue.

With the advancement of CAFOs we do not produce any more pork than in the 70’s.The difference in the 70’s, was that farmers received a much higher share of the food dollar. In Missouri the corporatization of pork production has caused 20,000 hog farmers to go out of business, many of them because of a loss of markets to sell their product. Before these corporate advancements in agriculture we never had patent infringement lawsuits and we did not take away people’s rights to protect them from a form of production that more closely resembles urban industrialization, hence the term factory farms.

Farmers have been well protected by the Right to Farm act (statute 537-295) for many years. In essence if you are a good neighbor for a year, you cannot be sued for being a nuisance ever, unless you blatantly pollute the water. The protection is inheritable and transferable. This was to protect farmers from urban sprawl. Now the legislature wants to protect the industrialization of farms from the people and farmers themselves. The Right to Farm act sought to protect farmers from this sort of intrusion. Advancements in Agriculture have never needed laws to protect any advancement, as they claim from family farmers. Farmers are some of the best entrepreneurs in the nation. Unfortunately the advancement of corporate involvement is removing that great resource. Contract growers have no voice in what happens with their involvement in these operations. They no longer have any choice in the free market system. They become subject to corporate accountants and lose the rights and control of their operation.

Their claim of job creation is deceiving. Gone are 20,000 hog producers from the state. Gone are the auction barns that employed many local people. Gone are the buyers that attended the auction to buy the packers supply. Gone are the extra truck drivers to pick up the hogs at the auction barns. The jobs created by corporate types of operations are low pay and low quality jobs. They don’t make up for the lifelong taxpayers and citizens driven out because of what they claim is the future of agriculture.

Senator Blunt from Missouri will introduce an amendment (S.1729) to clarify that manure is not a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant under the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act of 1980. Of course Missouri Representative Billy Long sponsored a companion bill in the House of Representatives. I wonder if they ever talked with the families who lost loved ones to e-coli from improperly handled manure contaminated the food they ate or if they considered the businesses impacted when lakes that are closed to full body contact because of e-coli levels.

Not to be outdone on the state level, in addition to passing last year’s SB.187, Senator Munzinger has already filed SB. 490. This bill states that if a permanent nuisance has moved next to your home or farm even if it smells up your property or pollutes the waters of the that runs through your property, maybe fills your pond with wastewater that your cows drink., you do not have the right to sue. He was nice enough not to let them dump nuclear waste on us. Again I don’t think Sen. Munzinger spoke to any neighbors of these permanent nuisances and explained how this bill benefits the state and the corporations. I doubt if he knows any benefits to anyone except the corporations running these foul smelling factory farms. This bill offers even more protection for Animal Feeding Operations.

We cannot afford a blanket endorsement that all Animal Feeding Operations are great neighbors and improve the community or environment. If our legislature overturns all democratic votes and if we remove all accountability to these operations to be good, humane (both to the animals and their human neighbors) where will it stop? What is the future of Agriculture if this trend is allowed to continue? These laws may well be the end of our freedom to enjoy our property and for some the end of their future in agriculture. Missouri legislators should remember our state motto “The welfare of the people shall be the supreme law”.

(Darvin Bentlage is a Barton County, Missouri farmer.)