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story.lead_photo.caption In this 2005 photo, a group of young pigs stare out of a pen at a hog farm in central North Dakota. Photo by The Associated Press

Agriculture groups named in a lawsuit against Senate Bill 391 issued a strongly worded joint statement Thursday.

"The legal system is being misused by those determined to stifle Missouri farm and ranch families from opportunities to grow and keep future generations on the farm," the statement reads. "This frivolous lawsuit is a last-minute, desperate attempt designed to disrupt Missouri agriculture."

Released by the Missouri Farm Bureau, the public response is co-signed by the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, Missouri Pork Association, Missouri Soybean Association and Missouri Corn Growers Association.

The latter two are not named as respondents in the lawsuit, which was filed Monday. Some respondents, including the Missouri Clean Water Commission, Missouri Air Conservation Commission and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, did not sign on to the response.

SB 391, set to take effect Aug. 28, would prevent local governments and health departments from passing rules about agricultural operations that are stricter than state regulations. Cole County Judge Patricia Joyce issued a temporary restraining order against the bill Monday.

"Senate Bill 391 will end the practice of using scientifically unfounded county health ordinances to regulate animal agriculture," the ag groups stated. "We need to stop this regulatory fiasco for farm and ranch families and focus on growing agriculture and creating new economic opportunity."

The release paints the lawsuit's participants as a "small band of naysayers" who are anti-agriculture, anti-free speech, and "hell-bent on overturning the work of the Missouri legislature." It promises respondents will aggressively fight the suit.

"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," it states. "We stand ready to work with Governor Mike Parson, Attorney General Eric Schmitt and others to mount the necessary response to this unfounded temporary restraining order."

It adds that "family farmers and ranchers operate on a handshake, not a court order."

It's worth noting, however, that several of the lawsuit's participants — including Callaway County cattle farmer Jefferson Jones — are themselves family farmers. Other filers include local activist group Friends of Responsible Agriculture, the Cedar County Commission and the Cooper County Public Health Center.

The joint statement characterizes the lawsuit's naming of agricultural groups as an attempt to "chill our right to free speech," adding: "We are being sued for having an opinion."

The lawsuit presents different reasoning for including agricultural groups.

"SB 391 goes into effect on August 28, 2019 and Respondents-Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Pork Association, and Missouri Cattlemen's Association have publicly stated their intentions to file lawsuits to enforce the provisions in Senate Bill 391 immediately after its effective date," the suit, filed by lawyer Stephen Jeffery, states.

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