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Organic Consumers Association

Biotech & Factory Farm Bullies Attack Local Democracy in Missouri

Environmental Commons continues to track agriculture-based legislation that impacts local government and community decision-making. Unlike previous years of tracking, which focused solely on identifying "seed preemption" bills aimed at removing a community's ability to make decisions about seeds and plants, the 2007 Tracker ( environmentalcommons.org/gmo-tracker.html) is additionally identifying where state and local lawmakers recognize the importance of community decision-making and are introducing bills that protect small farming systems and local decision-making.  So far in 2007, the bill of most concern has appeared in Monsanto's home state of Missouri. Missourians for Local Control is actively fighting this bill.

Missouri, SB364 Missouri's SB364 is a particularly alarming bill. Its language, if passed, would provide that "state law and regulations adopted by state agencies shall preempt the entire field of and constitute a complete and integrated regulatory plan for agricultural operations in Missouri." Whereas the 2006-defeated bill centered solely on seeds, the 2007 SB364 would preempt local governments from making any decisions related to agriculture.  Not only would local jurisdictions be hamstrung from passing laws related to seeds and plants, but also regulations related to industrial concentrated animal feeding operations would be preempted by the State.

According to Dick Burke of the Missouri Association of Counties, "local officials are willing to cede some control. But a total pre-emption is just something we cannot accept." In addition, Tom Beamer, the mayor of Arrow Rock, who has fought a well-publicized battle against a proposed hog farm expansion near the tiny, town located on a bluff above the Missouri River, stated, "Without any county planning and zoning, then there's nothing you can do to stop it. A farmer could put a nuclear reactor in his field and you couldn't stop him. You might as well not have a county commission because everything is being decided by the state." Beamer added that tourism and the town's historic sites are the only industry it has and that a large animal-feeding operation would be devastating. He said it is these kinds of factors that only local governments can consider.

Why Local? Providing local governments and communities with oversight of their food supply ensures that food production, distribution, and marketing are carried out in ways that are healthy for the local economy and the environment. The local control of our food supply helps secure the health and welfare of communities. Local authority strengthens democracy and gives citizens a more direct stake in a healthy future. Local control of our food improves food security, local economies, environment, and community cohesion and civic engagement.

From a public policy standpoint, local governments have historically been provided oversight of issues of health, safety, and welfare. Certainly farming operations fall within this arena. Moreover, when a series of local jurisdictions begin introducing laws to better protect health, safety, and welfare, the state's response should not be to simply remove the local governments ability to protect its constituents. The basis for such local laws should be thoroughly explored and studied. Perhaps concentrated animal feeding operations significantly affect air quality.  Perhaps the cultivation of genetically modified seeds presents a real threat to local native species or organic farming economies. The State needs to support the concerns of its local jurisdictions not simply run roughshod over them.  In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to James Madison in which he stated, "I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but the people, and if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them."

For More Information: 2007 Food Democracy Legislation Tracker: environmentalcommons.org/gmo-tracker.html

Local Food Fact Sheets: environmentalcommons.org/LocalFood/index.html

Food Democracy: environmentalcommons.org/food-democracy.html

Seed & Plant Preemption Bills Fail in 2006 Legislatures: environmentalcommons.org/preemption-bills-fail-2006.html

 -- Britt Bailey, Director
Environmental Commons
PO Box 1135
Gualala, CA 95445
environmentalcommons.org
(707) 884-5002

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