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November 25, 2008   Email to Friend 

By Jerry Harke
(202) 406-3640
November 25, 2008

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A number of activist groups have long been opposed to modern livestock production, but have found it difficult in many states to have animal agriculture simply zoned out of existence. Today, those groups are trotting out new tactics, such as "nuisance" lawsuits and park preservation rulings in pursuit of a common goal of changing the way animal agriculture is practiced in the United States.

Two neighboring states where activists are on the attack are Missouri and Illinois. Since 2006, anti-animal-agriculture activists in Illinois have deployed a tactic of filing "nuisance" lawsuits in hopes of shutting down livestock production. In neighboring Missouri, a state judge earlier this year handed activists opposed to modern livestock production a huge victory. The judge banned indoor hog farms within a 15-mile radius of the historic village of Arrow Rock. A lawsuit was brought by two activist groups against the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for issuing a permit allowing a farmer near Arrow Rock to build facilities to house 4,800 hogs, two miles west of the village.

Because the regulatory scheme in many states does not allow local governments to zone agriculture out of existence, many activist groups are angling for any tactic that will work. Right-to-farm statutes in many states allow nuisance claims if the farm is violating a local health and safety ordinance. So, rather than losing a zoning battle, activists enact creative health and safety ordinances that make it impossible to do business.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman stated early this year that producers should be aware of a national outbreak of warfare on the animal agriculture front. Stallman warned livestock producers that activists are skilled at using emotion to trump fact-based science in an attempt to change the way the livestock industry has operated for years. These groups employ sophisticated, big-money tactics to misinform the uninformed.

Fortunately, in the sea of lawsuits, there are some bright lights.

In a recent high-profile case in Oklahoma, a federal judge denied a request by the Oklahoma Attorney General for an emergency injunction to stop the spreading of chicken litter in the Illinois River watershed. The judge determined that the evidence did not show that bacteria in the watershed could be traced only to poultry litter. As a result, the judge's ruling will allow poultry producers to continue the use of best management practices for spreading poultry litter as renewable fertilizer to be used by crops in the Illinois River watershed. A North Dakota court recently struck down a local ordinance in Ramsey County that attempted to enact regulations that would deliberately freeze livestock production out of the county. The North Dakota Farm Bureau fought that battle and the effort paid off.

The first thing to remember about this battle is there is no federal jurisdiction over issues involving local ordinances or state nuisance and trespass. That makes it a state-by-state challenge.

Efforts by activists may be cloaked as local health, safety and environmental ordinances to protect the public good. On closer examination, many are clearly intended to shut down or drive out livestock production.

Jerry Harke is director of issues management for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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