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Just as every state has farms, every state has a “right to farm” (RTF) law on its books. Right to farm laws were originally established to protect existing farmers from nuisance complaints and legal action from neighbors who may have recently moved to a farming area and were not used to the sounds and smells of a working farm. But in recent decades, family farmers and rural communities across the country have been fighting expansion of RTF laws that have stripped their rights and allowed huge livestock operations to move in. These expanded laws have turned RTF on its head; they’re now used to protect new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and similar large-scale factory-style operations from opposition by existing neighbors.
A new or expanded CAFO can upend the rural community’s quality of life. Odors and flies from these operations make it impossible for residents to sit outside or hang their laundry. People living near a CAFO are at high risk for a range of illnesses, including severe respiratory problems, nausea and even cancer, while leaking manure storage can pollute the water table, forcing residents to buy water or switch from a well to town water, at added expense. Property values near a CAFO can drop as much as 88 percent, leaving people trapped in a home they can no longer sell.
The strictest RTF laws tie the hands of local or county governments by preempting regulation of agriculture or forestry practices, while shielding bad actors from accountability or legal recourse. Despite pushback from rural communities and local governments around the country, RTF laws continue to be promoted and strengthened at the state level.
As an extension of these laws, agribusiness interests in some states have also sought to explicitly eliminate local control over CAFO siting or other agricultural issues. In states with local control on CAFOs, a county or regional agency has authority to approve or deny a CAFO application based on local conditions.
For example, Missouri county health boards long held binding authority over the siting of large CAFOs. After years of attempts by agribusiness-connected state lawmakers to weaken this local control, they passed a preemption law in 2019 prohibiting counties from imposing stricter CAFO standards than the state. Counties and municipalities best know the conditions of their local environment and whether their community can sustain a large animal operation; lawmakers in states with local control authority should therefore seek to uphold this authority and resist any attempts to weaken or eliminate it.
State policymakers can champion opposition to these laws by fighting changes that increase their scope and exposing them as the bad neighbor laws that they are.
We have prepared talking points to help legislators respond to new right to farm bills in their states. CROP members can see the messaging guide here. Not a CROP member? As a state legislator, you can join here.