Around the country, the 2019 state legislative sessions were tough for our legislation but good for factory farms, but we managed to stop a few of the worst bills. Here’s our roundup of the good, the bad, the ugly—and the solutions.
Right-to-Farm bills silence residents and must be stopped
“Right-to-farm” laws stop those living near farms from filing lawsuits over nuisances associated with farm operations — even though factory farms take these “nuisances” to a dangerous level. Polluted drinking water, sickening odors, plummeting property values, and serious health impacts are a reality of living near a factory farm. Because North Carolinians who live next to Smithfield’s factory hog farms have been winning (and winning and winning) in court against the company, the Farm Bureau and its allies are retaliating by pushing to enact or strengthen right-to-farm bills in other states. New right-to-farm laws were enacted in Utah, Nebraska, Georgia, West Virginia, and Oklahoma. Bills were proposed in several other states but did not pass. These new laws are a chilling play to silence people and could lessen (or halt altogether) people’s ability to use the court system to hold factory farms accountable for their pollution.
Setting these nightmarish right-to-farm laws aside for now, here’s an overview of other factory-farm related legislation that we followed during 2019 state sessions.
A bill seeking to weaken the process for permitting hog factory farms in the Buffalo River Watershed in Arkansas was dropped after intense citizen outcry and after the EPA notified the state that the agency would be reviewing the bill.
The Iowa legislature failed to pass a single piece of legislation addressing the state’s water quality crisis in 2019, despite a powerful legislative moratorium bill being introduced in both chambers. Representative Dean Fisher, chair of the environmental protection committee, refused to assign the bill to a subcommittee and it died in the March 8 funnel, a key legislative deadline at which bills that have not been passed out of committee are no longer viable.Ugly
Iowa’s ag-gag law, enacted a few years ago, was ruled unconstitutional by the state supreme court during the 2019 legislative session. Legislators immediately made it clear that they had learned nothing from the years-long legal challenge to the law. Within a few short weeks of the court ruling, legislators rushed a new ag-gag bill through both chambers and on to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ desk where she promptly signed it. It was immediately challenged by the same plaintiffs that had brought the suit against the first version of this factory farm protection law.
Oregon legislators failed to take action on a couple of bills dealing with mega-dairy pollution in the fallout from the filthy Lost Valley Farm mega-dairy’s closure last year. One visionary proposal would have enacted a legislative moratorium on new and expanding mega-dairies; another weaker compromise bill would have enacted some minor improvements to the permitting process. Neither passed out of committee.
Effective local control is the best way for communities to protect themselves from factory farms. Missouri was one of the last Midwestern states where county governments could enact health ordinances to influence factory farm siting. For many years, groups in Missouri have fended off bills to strip local communities of this right. Unfortunately, this year a bill was reintroduced and subsequently passed. Groups like the Missouri Rural Crisis Center mobilized an incredible effort to stop them, but unfortunately, the legislature gave the factory farm industry a gift and took away local control.
Maryland Senator Clarence Lam reintroduced the Community Healthy Air Act (CHAA) this year, which would have required the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) to monitor air emissions from industrial chicken operations and to assess their impacts on public health. While a hearing was held in the Senate, the bill ultimately failed to pass.
North Carolina’s legislature is still in session for 2019, and legislators are hard at work protecting factory farms and incentivizing factory farm biogas production in response to Smithfield’s recent announcement of plans to install manure covers to produce biogas at 90 percent of their hog farms. We’ve said it many times before — biogas is a false solution that won’t solve either our climate crisis or our factory farm problem.
Say it with us — factory farms are NOT critical infrastructure. But in Texas, a bill proposing to criminalize interference with so-called “critical infrastructure” including factory farms was sent to the Governor this year. This bill will make it a third-degree felony to protest at critical infrastructure locations if the protest interferes with operations. It makes many acts of nonviolent civil disobedience felonies with lifelong consequences.
2019 brought some tough losses in a lot of states. We’ve linked the bills in our write-up above so you can see how your legislators voted on these proposals. Corporate influence in our political system is one of the biggest threats to our food, water, and environment, and the terrible bills that passed in 2019 demonstrate why.
But 2020 is an election year, and it’s just around the corner. Presidential candidates are beginning to recognize the devastating impact factory farms have on rural America, and we need to make candidates down the ballot learn this lesson as well. The 2020 elections are an opportunity for us to hold our public officials accountable. We need to show up and ask questions, call out our elected officials when they pander to Big Ag, and vote for candidates who will represent our interests — not the meat industry’s. We’ll continue to run bold campaigns to overhaul our food system, starting with getting rid of factory farms. Stand with us as we fight to build a democracy that works for everyone.