Environmental, Natural Resources, & Energy Law Blog
Who is the General Assembly Looking Out for? The Negative Impact of Confined Animal Feeding Operations on Rural Missouri - Caryn Haddix
December 10, 2022
Who is the General Assembly Looking Out for? The Negative Impact of Confined Animal Feeding Operations on Rural Missouri
Since 2013, the Missouri General Assembly has passed legislation that has devastating effects on the rural landscape of the State. This series of laws have allowed for rapid expansion of Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) within the State, with many of these facilities having foreign ownership. In addition to promoting growth of these factory farms, the legislature has weakened environmental protections, loosened permitting requirements, and removed local control over these facilities – an issue which is currently on appeal before the Missouri Supreme Court.  Missouri legislators should protect and prioritize its citizens and the environment rather than corporate profits.
In September 2013, the Missouri House passed House Bill 650 which changed several laws related to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The bill essentially exempted CAFOs from all construction permitting requirements except for construction or “major modification” of an earthen waste storage basin for a new or expanding Class 1 CAFO. Class size is determined by the number of animal units in confinement at a specific operation. Class 1 operations contain 1000 or more animal units of one animal category at one location.
That same month, the Republican-controlled General Assembly voted to override Democratic Governor Jay Nixon’s veto of Senate Bill 9. Buried near the bottom of Senate Bill 9 was a provision to allow foreign companies to purchase agricultural land so long as the total amount did not exceed 1% of the state’s agricultural land. Just prior to the bill being sent to the Governor’s desk, a Chinese company, WH Group (f/k/a Shuanghui International Holdings) purchased Smithfield Foods, a company that owns 42,000 acres of agricultural land in Missouri and 11 of the largest CAFOs in the State.
Missouri also has a “right to farm” law, similar to those in other states, which protects farmers from nuisance lawsuits over smells and sounds that may impact neighboring properties. Since it was first passed in 1982, a series of amendments have been adopted, including an extremely controversial constitutional amendment that passed in 2014 by a very slim margin which guarantees “the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices.” Missouri also protects commercial operations from nuisance suits so long as they operate legally and were not a nuisance at the time they began operations.
Missouri then goes one step further and limits the amount of compensatory damages that may be awarded in nuisance suits. After a 2009 amendment, damages for a “permanent” nuisance to a reduction in property value was capped at the fair market value of the property. Claimants could not sue for noneconomic damages for loss of enjoyment and use (like sitting outside, hanging laundry or even opening the windows). Although this has been challenged as unconstitutional, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled that, even if a private party benefitted, “promoting the agricultural economy is a legitimate public purpose” and therefore the nuisance did not constitute a taking.
The General Assembly has also passed other bills which benefit CAFOs, including House Bill 1713 which removes the requirement that a majority of the state’s Clean Water Commission (a 7 member, politically appointed, board) represent public interests. In 2020, this Commission altered the definition of “groundwater” as it relates to CAFO construction to specifically exclude perched water tables, allowing wastewater lagoons to be constructed without consideration for their proximity to same. As noted above, Missouri only requires construction permits for earthen basins and the Department of Natural Resources does not inspect “the adequacy or efficiency of the structural, mechanical or electrical components” of CAFO facilities, only “adherence to rules and regulations.”
In 2021, House Bill 574 was passed which provides exclusive authority to inspect agricultural facilities to the “Missouri Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources, the United States Department of Agriculture, the county sheriff and any other federal or Missouri state agency with statutory or regulatory authority.” While proponents claim the law clearly defines who has authority to inspect agricultural facilities, and under what conditions, to protect Missouri farmers from government overreach and biosecurity concerns, the bill also prevents public testimony regarding the condition of agricultural facilities and could have unintended consequences of preventing local law enforcement from doing their jobs on issues unrelated to the animals. Finally, the 2019 Senate Bill 391 prohibits local authorities from regulating CAFOs in a manner different than the State.
After Senate Bill 391 was enacted into statute, two Missouri counties, and several Missouri residents, sued, arguing that the law violated the Missouri state constitution. The plaintiffs asserted that the Missouri “Right to Farm” law allows for local control of CAFOs and additionally, that Senate Bill 391 was unconstitutional under the due process and equal protection clauses of both the state and federal constitutions. In December 2021, Cole County Judge Daniel Green ruled in favor of the State, finding no conflict between the Right to Farm bill and the current action, and no violation of due process or equal protection as plaintiffs failed to establish a violation of a fundamental right, nor did plaintiffs show the statute violated a suspect class.
The Plaintiffs appealed and the matter was set for oral arguments before the Missouri Supreme Court on September 20, 2022. The Court’s decision is pending.
What impact does this series of legislation have on rural Missouri? In short, the laws have lessened the control and oversight that local authorities and residents have in their communities. Prior to the passage of Senate Bill 391, 29 counties had health or zoning ordinances related to animal feeding operations. Now, depending on the outcome of the Supreme Court case, local communities are at the mercy of the State regulations which have proven to be much more friendly to corporate interests. Cedar County, one of the Plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case, faced the threat of litigation for trying to enforce local CAFO regulations on a proposed chicken feeding operation. This threat of litigation has caused some counties to rescind existing or proposed county ordinances.
The General Assembly has paved the way for large factory farms owned by multinational or international corporations, pushing out family farmers and changing the rural landscape. Gone are the days of idyllic red barns and rolling hills. Factory farms are large, industrial-type buildings that can house thousands of animals at any one time. Not only do these facilities detract from the beauty of the surrounding area, but they have also changed the business of farming. Approximately 99% of farmed animals in the United States live in factory farms. There are approximately 500 CAFOs in Missouri and the state has issued permits for 20 more since 2019. Although local residents, including many in the business of farming, protest CAFOs moving into their counties, their complaints are rarely heard by state legislators.
And then there are the environmental concerns. Depending on the type of animal and the number contained, manure production can range between 2800 tons to 1.6 million tons per year. CAFOs produce between 3 and 20 times more manure than is produced by people in the United States. The difference is that human waste is treated at wastewater treatment facilities and livestock waste is not.
CAFO manure contains many potential contaminants, including antibiotics, chemicals used in the agricultural process, nitrogen, phosphorous and pathogens such as E. coli. The sheer volume of manure produced at a CAFO can overflow a waste lagoon meant to contain it, leach into groundwater or cause runoff from farmlands when overapplied as fertilizer leading to polluted waterways. In March 2022, Smithfield Foods was cited by the State of Missouri for dumping 300,000 gallons worth of hog waste into streams in the northern part of the state when an employee “errantly” drained 500,000 gallons of waste from the facility’s storage lagoons. The company’s fine for this “error”? $18,800.50, or less than $0.04 cents per gallon. Smithfield Foods is the world’s largest pork producer and owns 11 CAFO facilities in Missouri. An $18,000 fine is not a deterrent for an entity of this size.
In addition to polluting the waters of the State, manure application releases harmful gases and particulate matter into the air resulting in noxious odors and negative health impacts such as asthma and chronic lung disease. Methane gas is known to be one of the biggest contributors to climate change. Despite this, these emissions are not regulated by the Clean Air Act.
To reverse course, Missouri needs its citizens to become informed and get engaged. To understand what legislation is being proposed, what it means and to speak out against harmful legislation (and CAFO permitting requests) via public comments, testimony or by contacting local and state representatives. Citizens also need to hold legislators and state agencies accountable. If politicians are not acting in the best interest of their constituents, they can be voted out. If state agencies are refusing to inspect facilities, investigate reports of environmental concerns or enforce regulations, they can be sued.
CAFOs require stringent regulation and local oversight. The facilities move into rural communities, encroach on area residents, negatively impact the environment and depress local economies. For the last decade, the Missouri General Assembly has demonstrated its willingness to ignore the needs and wants of its constituents for the allure of big corporate dollars. And while there are still some successes to report, it is becoming increasingly more difficult for Missouri residents to stave off the infiltration of factory farms in their communities. The impact will be realized for decades and the potential and known environmental damage may not be able to be reversed. Ask yourself, would you want to live next door to one?
 Allison Kite, Missouri Supreme Court weighs whether counties can regulate CAFOs • Missouri Independent, Sept. 22, 2022.
 “Changes the Laws regarding the Department of Natural Resources”, 97th General Assembly, House Bill No. 650 (2013).
 Id.; See also, “Animal Feeding Operation Permits and Regulations in Missouri”, Water Protection Program Fact Sheet, Missouri Department of Natural Resources PUB2351, April 1, 2021.
 See, Water Protection Program Fact Sheet PUB2351, April 1, 2021 for additional information on class size determination and conversion factors for each animal class.
 “CCS#2 HCS SCS SB9”, 97th General Assembly, Senate Bill No. 9 (2013).
 Id., §442.571.
 The acquisition of Smithfield Foods by a Chinese firm stirred up much controversy and raised issues related to food safety and security, as well as national security. There was enough concern to prompt a hearing by the Senate Agricultural Committee in July 2013. See, “Smithfield and Beyond: Examining Foreign Purchases of American Food Companies,” U.S. Senate, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. (July 10, 2013).
 Mo. Const., Art. 1, §35 (2020). The phrase “farming and ranching practices” is ill-defined and there is debate over whether this amendment was meant to help family farmers, which proponents claimed, or actually did more to help corporate agribusiness entities.
 Mo. Rev. Stat. §532.295 (2020).
 Mo. Rev. Stat. §532.296 (2020).
 Labrayere v. Bohr Farms, LLC, 458 S.W.3rd 319 (2015).
 “Requires the Dept. of Natural Resources to provide information regarding advanced technologies to upgrade existing lagoon-based wastewater systems to meet any new or existing discharge requirements”, 98th General Assembly, House Bill No. 1713 (2016).
 MO 10 CSR 20-8.300 (2)(B)(3) (2021). A perched water table is an accumulation of groundwater that is usually trapped above an impermeable layer of soil, or “dry zone”, that separates it from the water table below. If the groundwater flow in a perched water table intersects the surface, the water can be discharged as a spring.
 MO 10 CSR 20-8.300 (1) (2021).
 “Prohibits the inspection of certain ground or facilities in Missouri to enforce the laws of a state other than Missouri”, House Bill No. 574, 101st General Assembly (2021).
 Id. at paragraph 4.
 “Modifies provisions relating to agricultural operations”, 100th General Assembly, Senate Bill 391 (2019).
 Cedar County Commission, et al. v. Governor Michael Parsons, et al., 19AC-CC00373 (2019).
 Allison Kite, “While Cedar County awaits ruling in CAFO lawsuit, a Large Chicken Operation Moves In”, https://www.missouribusinessalert.com, July 15, 2021.
 Hannah McKay, “Mega Farms Called CAFOs Dominate Animal Agriculture Industry”, https://www.sentientmedia.org, September 29, 2021.
 Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Missouri Department of Natural Resources - DNR (mo.gov).
 Carrie Hribar, “Understanding Confined Animal Feeding Operations and Their Impact on Communities”, National Association of Local Boards of Health, 2010.
 Allison Kite, “Missouri Fines CAFO $18,000 for Polluting Streams with 300,000 Gallons of Waste,” https://www.missouriindependent.com, March 9, 2022.
 Lisa Held, “Methane from Agriculture is a Big Problem. We Explain Why.”, https://civileats.com, October 26, 2021.
 In 2021, Brazilian-owned JBS corporation, the biggest meatpacker in the world with more than 150 plants world-wide, sought a permit for a 10,000 head hog facility in Livingston County in the northwestern part of the State near the Poosey Conversation Area. JBS is the company who saw many of its migrant and non-English speaking workers die from, or be infected with, COVID, and is also currently under investigation by the SEC and DOJ for bribery. The permit application was ultimately withdrawn. One Missouri, “CAFOs in Missouri: We Need to Be Careful”, May 21, 2021; and Allison Kite, “As Massive livestock operations move in, fighting them gets harder for rural neighbors,” https://www.missouriindependent.com, June 14, 2021.