Emotions, opinions and conversations all were running high during a well-attended public forum which addressed the recently-passed Senate Bill 391 on Thursday, June 5, at the Cedar County courthouse.
Scores of Cedar County residents, activists from across the state and numerous elected officials were all in attendance to share thoughts, experience and opposition to the new bill.
Signed into law Friday, May 31, by Governor Mike Parson, SB 391 is legislation which opens the state of Missouri to agriculture producers operating concentrated animal feed operations with out-of-state and foreign ownership at unprecedented levels.
As the event began, moderator Cheryl Marcum asked all those who directly contacted the offices of representatives, senators or any state entity in relation to SB 391 opposition to stand — the majority of those in attendance were almost immediately on their feet.
Marcum then asked all those who received direct acknowledgment from an elected official or a personalized response from any official’s staff to remain standing — most of those on their feet swiftly sat down, indicating very minimal response and little communication from state-level officials regarding concerns raised by their respective constituencies.
Marcum moved the event forward with an opening and an emotional conveyance of her take on the recently-passed legislation, explained the purpose of the first public forum on the matter, then introduced the evening’s panel of guest speakers.
Invited to orate at the public event were former Cedar County clerk Peggy Kenney, Cedar County resident affected by a neighboring CAFO Ed McEowen, Barton County native and generational farmer Darvin Bentlage, Missouri Rural Crisis Center representative Tim Gibbons and Missouri Coalition for the Environment representative Ed Smith.
Featured guest speaker Kenney weighed in and spoke about her personal opposition to SB 391. Kenney said her disagreement stems from its statewide power grab and disregard for county health regulations as well any county’s right to govern, create and enforce its own health ordinances.
McEowen and Bentlage each spent time discussing what to expect from CAFOs, battles they have fought, legal issues they have pursued and their respective interactions with all levels of local, regional and state government regarding opposition to all facets of CAFO business practices.
Currently, Cedar County does have a modern health ordinance in place, adopted in 2016. In part, the ordinance requires plans for CAFOs to be reviewed and approved by the county commissioners in accordance with the county-specific guidelines — which allowed Cedar County much greater control over its own farmlands and how they could potentially be impacted.
Newly-signed SB 391 steps over every piece of any respective county’s health ordinances with the sixth sentence of its approved language: “Under this act, any orders, ordinances, rules, or regulations promulgated by county commissions and county health center boards shall not impose standards or requirements on an agricultural operation and its appurtenances that are inconsistent with or more stringent than any provisions of law, rules, or regulations relating to the Department of Health and Senior Services, environmental control, the Department of Natural Resources, air conservation, and water pollution.”
Senator Sandy Crawford and Representatives Warren Love, Mike Stephens and Ann Kelley all voted in favor of SB 391 — consciously stripping local control from individual counties and their regulatory abilities when it comes to CAFOs.
An amendment to the bill’s language also was offered by house members wherein foreign entities would be prohibited from owning land — Love, Stephens and Kelley all voted against the amendment, thus joining the senate’s collective OK for non-U.S. companies to own and control untouched show-me state farmland at industrial proportions.
The latter part of the event featured a question and answer session wherein forum attendees submitted written questions and Marcum directed specific panel speakers to best provide answers to public inquiries.
“We’re not going to solve this tonight,” Marcum said as the event wound down. “We know that. But, we’re all more educated and our effort can truly start here.”
The evening’s formal events ended with a charge to the public from Brian Smith, Missouri Rural Action Committee. Smith implored the public to make this issue visible, converse about it locally, write letters to the editors of area publications and suggested contacting offices of local representatives throughout the state to voice the rural opposition to SB 391 as a whole.
Additionally, members of MRCC began tentative discussions with county commissioners in regard to potentially pooling manpower, legal resources, and potential measures a group of counties could jointly take in opposition to SB 391 in the near future.
Worthy of mention was the complete lack of local support for the legislation signed into law by the Bolivar-native governor — not one person in attendance offered or voiced support for the new senate bill.
The forum adhered to a strict 90-minute timeframe and a number of residents and officials further visited informally after the event officially closed.
—Photos by Miles Brite
Cedar County residents, community activists, regional farmers and elected officials who contacted state-level government entities stand in solidarity in their effort to oppose SB 391.
From left, Cedar County presiding commissioner Marlon Collins, southern district commissioner Bob Foster and northern district commissioner Don Boultinghouse, are recognized for a collective, dedicated opposition to SB 391 and for their implementation and adoption of Cedar County’s existing health ordinance.
Darvin Bentlage, fourth generation Barton County farmer, speaks about his personal dealings with CAFOs which border his property, crimes operations have committed, ongoing ecological and property damage and his personal legal struggles in fighting corporate-owned CAFOs.