A bill to limit the agencies allowed to inspect animal agriculture operations is another attempt to stifle local health protections, Brian Smith of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center said.
By only allowing inspections by federal and state agencies and county sheriffs, the bill filed by state Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, would make it more difficult to enforce local county rules, Smith said.
"This is just yet another attempt to stifle local control, to keep county elected leaders from being able to enforce health ordinances, and things like that," he said. "Look who is on here, DNR, Department of Ag, the county sheriff and any other federal or state agency."
The bill is similar to a proposal Haden filed last year and covers farms that produce livestock, dairy and eggs.
Last year, lawmakers passed a bill nullifying county health ordinances related to farming. That bill was celebrated by advocates of concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs. Haden sees his bill as an extension of that legislation.
Haden has said county officials have limited training and expertise on health inspections related to farming. Health ordinances regulating CAFOs were in effect in about 20 Missouri counties.
Smith said he is concerned by the ambiguity of the bill’s language allowing “any other federal or Missouri state agency with statutory or regulatory authority” to have inspection access.
"When people in these counties enact these health ordinances, they should have the ability to enforce them. Taking away this enforcement capability is unacceptable," Smith said.
Health ordinance-related inspections are only performed after a complaint, he added.
The bill nullifying county health ordinances is being challenged in court. A motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied in October. There was a hearing in December and the next hearing in that case is Feb. 19 on the case's merits, Smith said.
"[Haden's bill] would prevent county commissioners or health boards or anyone they would hire or contract with to respond to a complaint about county health ordinance being violated," Smith said.
Linn County recently received a complaint about a CAFO possibly spray-applying manure to fields, Smith said. County commissioners reviewed the complaint and found the CAFO knifed in manure as per the health ordinance.
"So, it goes both ways. The health ordinances aren't meant to harass anyone. They are just meant to put common-sense protections that protect everyone," Smith said. "In Cedar County, the commissioners there will tell you there have been cases where the ordinances have been a protection for an operation."
A section of Haden's bill allows for county health boards to inspect facilities where an after-market product, such as cheese, is produced. Cheesemaking facilities would be subject to county ordinances and inspections, but milking and barn facilities would not. They would fall under state inspection authority.
The bill excludes First Class counties, such as Boone or Jackson counties, with zoning for agricultural production.
"Most of the counties we're talking about here are third class counties, that have these health ordinances and they can't zone agriculture. They're not permitted by law to zone agriculture," he said.
The Rural Crisis Center considers state health regulations regarding CAFOs to be inadequate. State regulations require setbacks for manure application are up to 100 feet from waterways, wells and other structures. For manure storage, setbacks can be up to 300 feet from waterways. Counties had established ordinances based on terrain and other county features for their setbacks.