SPRINGFIELD, Mo – The Missouri law that protects large captive animal farms from local health regulations is now in effect.
A Cole County Judge set aside a temporary restraining order, and the lawsuit over the local health regulations is proceeding with the next court hearing scheduled for December 9th.
The law prevents Missouri counties from passing health regulations stricter than state laws governing large farms that raise hogs, poultry, and cattle. The industrial farms are known as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs: this means that CAFO’s could be coming to a community near you.
Retired Missouri Geological Survey Geologist Jim Williams says, in his 60+ years in the industry, he has seen the good things and bad things can come from CAFO’s. Jim says the first CAFO he worked with was in 1970 at a Tyson Plant near the Missouri/Arkansas border.
“(We) received a grant request from Tyson of Arkansas, they had a small CAFO, 800 sows. And they were having trouble properly disposing of their liquid manure. It was being washed off, it was going downstream.”
Jim says Tyson was worried about the people downstream and didn’t want what they were doing to affect those in the area. Jim suggested the CAFO get an engineer/manager to help fix the problem, “They did that so far as I know things worked perfectly since.”
Jim brings up that, in Southwest Missouri, we have karst topography, which means we have little soil to filter the waste and it runs through the bedrock into the water supply, but for the Tyson plant they did not have that issue being down here. Their issue was being in a hilly environment with different types of soils and bedrock.
“This is what some of this legislation that has been recently created will allow, they did not want that waste that they would pour on those hillslopes washing off and then flowing downstream into the neighbor’s property. That’s a pretty simple situation, if it had been karst it’d much more serious.”
According to Jim, Tyson represents the safe way to own and handle a CAFO, he says we should be worried about the new-to-come CAFO’s who do not know how to safely operate a site.
Jim says the safe way to operate a CAFO is to first select a site that is not karst.
“The other safe way is to have people, as I would say, that are smarter than hogs: To have good managers. We have seen in my experience more problems caused by poor management than geology.”
During Jim’s tenure as a geologist, he helped Wilson’s Creek, which at one time used to be a dump for Southwest Springfield’s waste. Jim says the creek was a heavily polluted area from the late 1890s to almost the 1970s until his team, the EPA, and the USGS cleaned up the area properly.
“We managed to get Springfield’s waste into a proper treatment plant and properly taken care of. You could say that would be like a CAFO, their waste into a proper holding facility, properly handled, properly taken care of,” says Jim.
“Poor management is attracted by states that have poor or no regulations, which is what Missouri is now. We are sitting here waiting for the guys who don’t want to abide by some of this… All of those people that are trying to do their job right are going to get smeared with a brush of ugly looking paint that bad operators bring in and nothing is going to stop them.”
When Jim refers to poor or no regulations, he’s referring to Senate Bill 391, which changes some agriculture rules to be statewide, instead of allowing smaller jurisdictions like counties to make their own decisions.
Read more of Senate Bill 391 here.
Jim also talks about a time he talked with a family who had to move out of their house and into a hotel because of a nearby CAFO.
“They’d have to move to a hotel or motel, they finally gave up and left, they lost their farm.”
Jim says people have gotten harmed both physically and mainly emotionally from CAFO’s.
“If you woke every morning and it smells terrible, what are you going to be after a year of this? And you own the land, you can’t sell it, who’s gonna going to buy it? You’re in a difficult situation.”
Jim says the end goal and the best way to handle the CAFO issue is to get the Missouri Geological Survey to go out and search the land gathering reports for where to properly build CAFO’s in Missouri.
“The Geological Survey had the authority to investigate liquid waste disposal sites in the late 1920s, let’s return to that. We’ve gone back 80 to 100 years in our approach to how we regulate the use of our land,” says Jim. “If you don’t do something this problem difficulty is just gonna going to get worse.”