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Missouri lawmakers should reject three bills that opponents said take away local control over confined animal feeding operations in the state.

That was the message Monday from several dozen Missourians who came to the Capitol from at least 16 counties to lobby against the measures.

Since February, their main target has been Senate Bill 391, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, which would prohibit county commissions or county health departments from regulating CAFOs more strictly than the state Natural Resources Department.

"There's so much wrong with this piece of legislation," Tim Gibbons, of the Columbia-based Missouri Rural Crisis Center, told the News Tribune. "I think that the vast majority of people in Missouri, both rural and urban, are vastly opposed to Senate Bill 391 — and are adamantly in favor of local control, and the ability of local elected representatives to protect them.

"Government's best when it's closest to the people."

In addition to Bernskoetter's bill, the group lobbied Monday against House Bill 951, which lists the state and federal agencies which can inspect the grounds or facilities in Missouri used to produce eggs, milk or other dairy products, livestock, or facilities where dogs or other animals are raised — and the only county official in the list is the sheriff.

The bill says no other entity can make an inspection without the owner's written permission.

And the group lobbied against Senate Bill 133, which began as a bill allowing civil penalties for violating laws related to egg production but had a number of provisions added in the House which, the Crisis Center lobbyists said, included the same provisions eliminating local control over land use in each county.

Rhonda Berry, a Howard County cattle farmer, said: "We cannot let the cattle industry go the way of the pork industry."

Berry said Missouri farmers already know what happens when corporate interests get control of agriculture.

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"We (already) have an industry that was corporatized in one generation," she said, "and that led to an increase in consumer prices of 121 percent.

"It led to a loss of 90 percent of Missouri's hog farmers, and it led to two foreign corporations controlling half of an entire U.S. industry — China and Brazil control half of the hog industry."

One "fact sheet" the lobbyists had in their packets showed, while the retail price of pork climbed 121 percent over the years, "the hog producers' share of the retail dollar has decreased (by) 53 percent — from 49 cents to 23 cents."

Brian Smith, also from the Rural Crisis Center, said the lobbying groups should show lawmakers that the bills they're considering won't protect farmers, because "DNR standards will not protect us at all. The way they are written themselves provide no protection and, right now, there's no political will at DNR to enforce even that."

The Crisis Center lobbyists also were urged to compare Missouri's situation with Iowa's.

Missouri, which has 20 counties that have already imposed local regulations on CAFOs, has 500 of those operations.

Iowa, where no local control exists, has 10,000 CAFOs and, Gibbons said, "more than 700 polluted waterways."

Bernskoetter has said his bill is needed so there is one "statewide policy for agriculture."

The Missouri Bankers Association's Craig Overfelt told the Senate's Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee last month: "This bill provides certainty for our banks that work with farmers to finance their operations.

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"Banks throughout Missouri are committed to meeting the financial needs of farmers in their communities."

Bernskoetter told the News Tribune earlier this month it's important to remember "agriculture is our number one industry, and I think the Department of Natural Resources can do a good job of regulating these animal feeding operations."

Gibbons told those who came to lobby against the bills: "We're a vastly diverse group of people, and our elected representatives (and senators) need to know who we are, and why we're here."

He told the News Tribune that multi-national companies like Smithfield Foods' Chinese owners "care nothing about the property rights, the property values, the water, the air, the livability of our communities — (or) about the family farmers."

He added: "What we're fighting against is industrialized corporate agriculture."

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