Missouri agriculture groups lash out at ‘frivolous’ lawsuit targeting industrial farms

Drone video: Missouri cattle feedlot’s plan to expand divides neighbors

Valley Oaks Steak's feedlot and slaughterhouse, located near dozens of houses and three miles from Powell Gardens, wants to expand its operation along U.S. highway 50. The plan has caused quite a stink with many nearby residents.
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Valley Oaks Steak's feedlot and slaughterhouse, located near dozens of houses and three miles from Powell Gardens, wants to expand its operation along U.S. highway 50. The plan has caused quite a stink with many nearby residents.

A collection of Missouri agriculture groups are calling a lawsuit filed this week to block the implementation of a state law aimed at protecting the interests of industrial farms a “frivolous” and “desperate” attempt to “disrupt Missouri Agriculture.”

The statement was released Thursday and authored by the the Missouri Farm Bureau, the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, the Missouri Pork Association, and the Missouri Corn Growers Association, many of whom are named in the suit. They were responding to a judge’s order Monday, after the suit was filed, to delay the bill’s implementation.

The groups say the bill protects family farmers from “unfounded” county health ordinances. It would prevent local officials from passing more stringent regulations than the state on large farms.

“The plaintiffs clearly have no desire to advance Missouri agriculture, and they will be met with relentless opposition from the actual farmers and ranchers our groups collectively and proudly represent,” the statement said.

Two of the plaintiffs in the suit are owners of family farms.

Cole County Presiding Judge Patricia Joyce’s action means the bill won’t take effect as scheduled on Aug. 28. Critics of the law have requested it remain on hold through a Sept. 16 court date.

The legislation is directed at protecting the interests of industrial farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations, which can produce beef, pork, poultry, dairy and eggs more efficiently than traditional farms can but also stoke concerns about air and water pollution.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a lengthy legal battle in Jackson County over the expansion of a Valley Oaks Steak Company feed lot.

Neighbors, including the non-profit Powell Gardens botanical garden, fought the company over concerns about the odor of the lot and potential impact of waste runoff on the environment.

On Monday, Valley Oaks announced plans to close the lot, citing economic strains from the ongoing battle with residents.

Valley Oaks planned to become a local “hoof-to-table” supplier. But the company faced neighbor opposition when it applied for a permit to allow its feedlot to expand from 999 cattle to 6,999.

Dozens of Jackson County property owners filed a lawsuit last month that contended they could not escape the odor emanated by the company’s operations. They said they were fed up with the insects, increased traffic and other quality of life issues.

Plaintiffs in the suit filed this week include the Cedar County Commission in southwestern Missouri, which has rules in place to prevent industrial farms from setting up too close to homes and vulnerable waterways that could become polluted by manure runoff.

“We had overwhelming support from local farmers and ranchers when we adopted our county health ordinance,” Marlon Collins, the presiding commissioner for Cedar County, said in a Tuesday statement. “We believe this is an important fight because we, as local elected officials, are in the best position to address local health concerns in Cedar County and to protect Stockton Lake, which provides the water supply for the city of Springfield.”

A spokesman for the Missouri attorney general’s office declined to comment, citing the pending lawsuit. But Gov. Mike Parson’s office pledged to fight it.

“The Governor’s Office has not been officially served with notice of this lawsuit,” spokeswoman Kelli Jones said in a statement. “Currently, we are working with the attorney general’s office on an aggressive legal response to this unfounded temporary restraining order.”

At least 20 counties have imposed additional regulations and fees on animal feeding operations through health ordinances, according to data from the University of Missouri Extension. Another nine counties and townships enacted zoning regulations.

The Associated Press and The Star’s Crystal Thomas contributed to this report.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.