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Posted on Wed., Apr. 11, 2007
By MELINDA HEMMELGARN
Columbia Daily Tribune

FOOD SLEUTH

Local Choice Protects Farms and Food

There's been a lot of talk about local control here lately. But what does it mean, and why should we care?

Local control means that our locally elected officials can make decisions and establish policies that affect our unique communities. These policies might guide the development of real estate and roads, or they might set health standards to protect air and water quality.

If communities deem state standards inadequate to protect or serve local residents, then locally elected officials have the freedom to choose tighter standards. Most Americans would agree that they want a say in the laws that affect them personally.

So it should come as no surprise to learn that more than 700 farmers have been at the Capitol since January, protesting against Missouri Senate Bill 364. According to Missourians for Local Control, the bill threatens to take authority away from locally elected representatives while protecting corporate agribusiness - more commonly known as factory farms. Missourians for Local Control is a network of community coalitions and individuals who believe that decisions should be made at the most local level possible, so the people most affected can participate.

Rhonda Perry, program director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said SB 364 abolishes the constitutional rights of farmers and property owners to legally challenge corporate livestock factories, even when the negative impacts of those operations infringe upon their property rights. In other words, the bill protects agribusiness at the expense of the vast majority of independent family farmers who create the rich rural tapestry of our state.

Hence the outpouring of protest from those who want to preserve their property values, protect their quality of life and produce food in an environmentally sound, humane and economically viable way. Although those protesting are largely family farmers, anyone who wants to pass along a clean environment and an intact democracy to future generations will want to pay close attention to this bill and inform their elected officials, including Gov. Matt Blunt, accordingly.

Environmental Commons, an organization founded in 2004 by environmental policy expert Britt Bailey, said that the "local control of our food is being systematically undermined through changing policy and market structure."

Unfortunately, as our food supply becomes more consolidated or owned by fewer and larger corporations, smaller independent food and agricultural businesses have either been bought out or forced to close because they cannot compete with larger multinational competitors. Rural communities suffer as a result.

Linn County Associate Commissioner Randy Wade said, "Corporate agriculture does for farming what Wal-Mart did for the uptown hardware store."

Wade describes two abandoned century farms in Linn and Sullivan counties, vacated "after the arrival of Premium Standard Farms hog houses." The Linn County commissioners had to pass a county health ordinance to protect residents from factory farm pollution. Wade, a registered nurse, understands the public health concerns associated with factory farms firsthand.

"These operations hurt our citizens; they can't stand to be outside their own homes," Wade said. "There are water problems and respiratory illnesses."

Don't believe the propaganda that large-scale feeding operations are inevitable or economically necessary. John Ikerd, agricultural economist and professor emeritus from the University of Missouri-Columbia, warns that profits are maximized for a handful of powerful corporations while local money gets siphoned away from local communities.

"The Farm Bureau is really behind these corporate farms," Wade said. "It's a money deal in the name of protecting the family farm. But it's really destroying the family farm. These operations don't generate jobs, and they cost us in tax revenue."

Ikerd believes we must stand up and claim our basic rights to protect our rural communities. With a strong collective voice, let's preserve local control and real homeland security.

Learn more: Missourians for Local Control: www.morural.org.

Environmental Commons: www.environmentalcommons.org.

Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., is a clinical dietitian, advocate for sustainable food systems and 2004-2006 Food and Society Policy Fellow. She lives in Columbia.

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