MARYVILLE, Mo. — The issue of large-scale confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, was back before the Nodaway County Commission on Thursday, April 25, when Nodaway resident and fourth-generation Worth County landowner Miles Spainhower urged the governing board to take a stance against a pair of legislative proposals that would prevent local governments from imposing more stringent CAFO health and safety standards.
The measures, House Bill 951 and Senate Bill 391, are backed by numerous production agriculture and business lobbies, including the Missouri Farm Bureau, MFA Inc., the Missouri Pork Producers Association, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
If either bill passes, counties would be prohibited from enacting CAFO restrictions that exceed the scope of state regulations.
Groups backing the proposals claim counties lack the expertise, trained personnel and funds to implement CAFO ordinances, and that state regulations, through the Department of Natural Resources, are more effectively enforced and provide a level playing field for operators statewide.
Opponents like Spainhower counter that DNR regulations are weak compared to most county health ordinances, and that CAFOs owned by corporations with few or no local ties drive down land values and hurt family farmers.
Nodaway County is one of 20 Missouri counties that has a health ordinance regulating CAFOs. The measure was passed by the Nodaway County Health Center Board of Directors in 2006 and sets forth regulations governing size, setbacks, waste disposal, permitting, bonding and other issues.
Shortly after the ordinance was adopted, the three-member County Commission challenged it, arguing that it alone was authorized to act as the county’s legislative body.
However, the state attorney general’s office rejected the challenge in a finding that declared the health center, by statute and precedent, possesses an equal legislative power with regard to ordinances affecting public health.
Worth and Harrison counties have similar ordinances on the books as do the northwest Missouri counties of Platte, Caldwell, Livingston and Linn.
There are currently no CAFOs operating in Nodaway County.
Spainhower said that should either HB 951 or SB 391 become law, counties will be forced to cede their power to regulate CAFOs to the state, a step he believes will lead to a reduction in regulatory responsiveness in the event of violations or environmental damage from effluent spills and other mishaps.
Making it easier for CAFOs to do business in Missouri, he said, would also lead to more ownership of Missouri agricultural operations and acreage by foreign corporations, such as Smithfield Foods, which is owned by the WH Group, China’s largest meat producer.
Spainhower added that vertically integrated CAFOs often pay low wages to local employees and have a limited economic impact on the counties in which they operate.
He continued that he had no problem with locally owned livestock enterprises, and that family farmers “should be able to do whatever they have to do to make a living.”
But agricultural “corporatism” Spainhower argued, was another matter.
“The CAFOs come in, the corporations come in, and land values will go down,” he said.