Amid the legal battle against the controversial confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) Valley Oaks, the local community has reason to celebrate. Johnson County Community Health Services Administrator, Anthony Arton, was given the green light to share his proposals to the Johnson County Commission for creating regulations/ordinances for CAFO’s in the county. He did this on October 4th, with two of the three proposed regulations calling for a public vote. While the regulations have yet to be drafted, they are much needed, as many Missouri counties have recognized over the past few years. Missouri has fallen behind as a state to protect communities, the environment and family farms from the impact of CAFO’s.
A Health Ordinance in Howard County (Ordinance 2017-02) passed in 2017 after months of discussions, education and revisions. Counties have recognized the need to regulate CAFO’s at their jurisdiction level after CAFO’s either moved into or planned to open operation in their counties. The state of Missouri appears to be using outdated information regarding the environmental and health impacts these operations have on the surrounding communities.
In 2008, 10 years ago, the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production completed its study on industrialized animal farming. They concluded that significant changes needed to be implemented immediately to protect the public health, the environment and welfare of animals against the risks often posed by CAFOs.
The Howard County Ordinance included a setback distance within a distance of existing homes, which is more stringent than the requirement set by the state of Missouri. Lone Jack Neighbors hopes it is also included within the proposals Anthony Arton is to present, along with many other topics discussed with him in a late September meeting. Representatives from the group was able to meet with the Johnson County Health Board and discussed the research done by members of the group, as well as hired experts. Lone Jack Neighbors is cautiously optimistic for the drafting of proposals for future health regulations/ordinances in Johnson County, and while these are unlikely to affect Valley Oaks, they would apply to future CAFO’s looking to operate within Johnson County. It is possible the residents of Johnson County will be able to vote at the polls in April, after the final draft of the regulations, as two of the three proposals included calling for a public vote on the measures.
The group hopes Johnson County will follow other Missouri counties who have begun to create these health department directives applying to factory farms. From more stringent setback rules and land size requirements per animal and stronger protections for our groundwater, the goals of each passed regulation or ordinance within the current counties in Missouri with them is to protect the general public, the environment and local farmers from the impact CAFOs have.
It’s important that boards of health take action to regulate CAFO’s. As Dr. Mary Haskins, Biology professor at Rockhurst University, is concerned for public health and the local environment when these entities go unregulated. Some gases produced from manure, such as ammonia, have the ability to be carried up to 80 miles. Ammonia in particular is concerning for its ability to cause algal blooms. Many municipal water treatment plants utilize open containment tanks as part of the treatment of water for public use. The city of Kansas City, Missouri is one such municipality and lists agricultural livestock operations as one of the potential reasons for microbial contaminants in its 2018 Water Quality Report. Increased ammonia could cause these treatment facilities to require even further decontamination and treatment of water to prevent algal blooms and maintain safe potable water. Gases produced from manure also pose a greater threat to the immediate community, with studies showing the increased likelihood of impaired lung and brain functions.
Aside from the health and environmental effects CAFOs have, the decline of small family farms can be attributed to the increased industrialization of farming in the United States. As Dr. John Ikerd, Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri, states in his presentation The Facts About Factory Farms “…as CAFOs replaced independent livestock farmers, USDA statistics indicate the number of beef cattle operations fell by 41%, hog farms declined by 90%, and dairy farms fell by 80%… Rural communities have suffered both economically and socially from this loss of traditional farm families” It is important CAFOs have regulations and ordinances placed upon them so the traditional family farm can thrive. Whereas CAFO’s typically purchase their feed and supplies outside of their local region, family farms add to the local economy by purchasing locally and stimulating the economy.
With the deadline for the Administrative Hearing Commission’s release of their decision from the August 27th-28th appeal hearing approaching, around October 23rd, Lone Jack Neighbors is proud to share that their efforts to increase the awareness on the impact CAFOs have on public health and environmental safety and look forward to the drafting of regulations/ordinances in Johnson County and across Missouri, as more counties look to protect their citizens.