The Missouri House passed a bill Thursday that would give only state and federal agencies the authority to inspect animal operations in Missouri.
The bill, filed by Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, would only allow the Missouri Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Missouri Department of Natural Resources and county sheriff’s departments to inspect animal operations. That would bar county health departments from inspecting operations with livestock, poultry, dairy, egg production or dog breeding.
The bill passed the House with a vote of 101-42. It will need a hearing in a Senate committee and approval from the full Senate before the governor can sign it into law.
Haden, a veterinarian who worked for MFA for 28 years and as a regulatory veterinarian for the state, previously said the bill is meant to give farmers clarity on who is allowed to inspect their land. Groups like the Humane Society have shown up to animal facilities in Missouri and asked to inspect them, Haden told the Mexico Ledger.
The bill would also prevent a “patchwork” of regulations passed by county health boards, Haden said. The Missouri Senate on Tuesday discussed another bill meant to eliminate county-level regulations on concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Opponents of county-level agriculture regulations have said they create confusion for producers looking to set up animal agriculture operations in Missouri.
Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, said she believes dog breeders are included in the bill to keep the proper inspectors from looking at “puppy mills,” where dogs are bred in poor conditions.
“By moving this bill forward, we’re saying basically that we’re willing to turn a blind eye and allow the Missouri Department of Agriculture to not report horrific cases of dog abuse to the proper law authorities,” McCreery said.
The department has failed to report problems like dogs being fed rotten meat and being kept in small cages where they couldn’t move. The legislature can’t conflate animal agriculture and dog breeders, and they need to have different regulations, McCreery said.
“This bill is a perfect example of a one size fits all approach not working,” she said.
Haden asked McCreery if she’s ever been on an inspection of a dog breeder. She’s read the inspection reports from the department, but can’t handle seeing how the animals are mistreated, she said. Haden offered to go with McCreery on an inspection, which she declined.
“I don’t want to see that with my own eyes, frankly,” McCreery said. “I’m embarrassed by Missouri being the puppy mill capital of the world, and I don’t think I can handle looking at how these animals are treated.”
Haden said people like McCreery have a bias against dog breeders and want to shut them down.
“You’re intent when you went in would be to close down a legal business in the state of Missouri,” Haden said. “Now if you don’t think it should be legal, bring that up again and see if you can get that done.”
Rep. Hannah Kelly, R-Mountain Grove, said her principal goal in agriculture policy is to not shut down the big guy in the name of protecting the small guy, and vice versa. She said the departments are ready to enforce whatever laws the legislature passes.
On Tuesday, Rep. Doug Beck, D-St. Louis, tried to add an amendment to Haden’s bill, which would have banned companies from outside the U.S. from buying agricultural land in Missouri. Beck has a separate bill that would make the same change, but it has still not been assigned to a committee. Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield, decided that amendment was outside the scope of the bill and set it aside. The House voted 100-41 to affirm Haahr’s motion after an appeal.