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Judge pauses new Missouri law on large farm regulations

Aug 23, 2019  | Ep4501

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A judge on Monday temporarily blocked a new Missouri law that sought to shield large hog, poultry and cattle farms from stringent local health rules.

Cole County Presiding Judge Patricia Joyce's action means the measure won't take effect as scheduled on Aug. 28. Critics of the law have requested it remain on hold through a Sept. 16 court date.

If implemented, it would prevent local officials from passing more stringent regulations than the state on large farms.

It's directed at protecting the interests of industrial farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, which can produce beef, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs more efficiently than traditional farms can but also stoke concerns about air and water pollution.

Backers have argued that some local governments that are unfriendly to industrial farms threaten to regulate them out of existence, but critics allege the law is unconstitutional and infringes on local control.

Plaintiffs include the Cedar County Commission in southwestern Missouri, which has rules in place to prevent industrial farms from setting up too close to homes and vulnerable waterways that could become polluted by manure runoff.

"We had overwhelming support from local farmers and ranchers when we adopted our county health ordinance," Marlon Collins, the presiding commissioner for Cedar County, said in a Tuesday statement. "We believe this is an important fight because we, as local elected officials, are in the best position to address local health concerns in Cedar County and to protect Stockton Lake, which provides the water supply for the city of Springfield."

A spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General's Office, which defends state laws, declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit. But Parson's office pledged to fight it.

"The Governor's Office has not been officially served with notice of this lawsuit," spokeswoman Kelli Jones said in a statement. "Currently, we are working with the Attorney General's Office on an aggressive legal response to this unfounded temporary restraining order."

Several agriculture advocates are also named in the suit, including the Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Cattlemen's Association. Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said the organization is reviewing the case.

"Missouri shouldn't be the Wild West where it's wide open for anyone to sue for anything," Missouri Cattlemen's Association Executive Vice President Mike Deering said. "There should be consequences for filing frivolous lawsuits. The best I can tell, we were sued for having an opinion."

At least 20 counties have imposed additional regulations and fees on animal feeding operations through health ordinances, according to data from the University of Missouri Extension. Another nine counties and townships enacted zoning regulations.

Joyce on Sept. 16 will weigh whether to continue to block enforcement of the law as the lawsuit plays out in court.

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