Opinions are like noses: everybody has one. It’s not often that you get sued for having an opinion, but the Missouri Farm Bureau has just been sued because we supported a bill passed by the Missouri legislature and signed by the governor. The plaintiffs have also sued the Missouri Cattleman’s Association, the Missouri Pork Association, the Governor, the non-paid heads of two citizens commissions, and the state of Missouri. Butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers were overlooked in this onslaught of litigation, but there is still time.
The controversy has arisen over Senate Bill 391, which would require that county health ordinances controlling the siting of livestock farms be no more strict than state laws governing the same. The bill as written would have gone into effect on August 28th, although a Cole County, Missouri judge initially granted a stay. Thankfully, a subsequent judge dissolved the order pending a hearing on the lawsuit. The ultimate outcome is up to the whims of the legal system, but the courts should eventually find that the Missouri Legislature has the ability to, you know, legislate.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit sued Missouri Farm Bureau because, according to them, we had threatened litigation ourselves. We had indeed pointed out that counties who ignored clearly written and duly passed and signed state legislation would find themselves open to being challenged. As strange as it may seem, neither the U.S. nor the Missouri constitution give county health commissioners in Missouri a veto over every other level of government. That’s the argument being made by the wildly optimistic lawyers in this case: that local ordinances, like the Ten Commandments, are etched in stone and immune to improvement or change.
The paeans to local control from editorial pages across the state have been a source of continuing amusement. Do our major newspapers really want counties in rural Missouri to be in charge of abortion law, school curriculum, marriage law, and the local press? I doubt it. Economic regulation that is uniform across the state is the most fair and efficient way to provide for economic growth and equity for all businesses.
Several counties in Missouri have bought into the argument that they can successfully challenge state law on this issue, and even more have been dealing with the well-oiled anti-livestock outrage machine that has been traveling across the state for years. The studies quoted by the opponents of 391 and the examples of problems caused by the livestock industry have all reached their sell-by date. The main academic expert trotted out by this traveling circus was last employed by a university when Hogan’s Heroes was a hit on TV, and the examples of problems caused by pigs or chickens are almost always somewhere else or a very long time ago.
The legislature corrected tremendous unfairness in the way farming was regulated across the state by passing SB 391; the governor is to be applauded for signing the bill; and farm groups were well within their rights as voluntary associations to have an opinion on this issue. Groups like ours should not find ourselves involved in expensive court cases for doing what we were lawfully created to do. All citizens of Missouri have a right to freely express an opinion without fear of legal reprisal, and Farm Bureau will continue to argue in favor of public policies adopted by our members as a result of a grassroots process.
Blake Hurst, a farmer from Westboro, is the President of Missouri Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization.