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Battle Over Local Rights to Ban Factory Farms in Pennsylvania

posted 4/20/04

Farmers seek aid against restrictions
By JIM HOOK
Senior writer

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has stepped up its lobbying against local
ordinances that target agricultural practices.

More than 300 farmers from across the state gathered Tuesday in the Capitol
Rotunda in Harrisburg. Eight local farmers met with area legislative
delegates during their annual spring rally.

The farmers joked that the lawn at the Governor's Mansion with all its
kitsch cows would need a concentrated animal operation (CAO) permit.

But they were serious in protecting "environmentally sound farm practices"
from "illegal local ordinances" -- in the words of Betsy Huber, Master of
the Pennsylvania Grange.

Gov. Ed Rendell vetoed a bill last year that would have allowed a farmer to
recover attorney's fees if he beat a township law ruled a nuisance ordinance
in court. If the farmer lost, he would have paid the township attorney's
fees.

Rendell had said he wanted a more comprehensive approach to the issue.

Farmers were in Harrisburg to ask the governor for his comprehensive
approach, according to Titus Martin, a dairyman from Fayetteville and past
president of the Franklin County Farm Bureau. Rendell didn't offer one.

More than 50 townships have exceeded their powers by adopting ordinances
that restrict the growth and operation of farms, according to the state farm
bureau.

Townships have taken on farming issues because the state has refused to
protect citizens' health, welfare and public safety, according to Tom
Linzey, staff attorney in Chambersburg for the Community Environmental Legal
Defense Fund. His group has drafted sample ordinances regulating factory
farming, ordinances challenged by the farm bureau in court.

"The state is bought and sold by farm bureau and agribusiness interests,"
Linzey said.

Martin said there has been a push for municipalities to prohibit the use of
genetically altered seed, such as Round-up-ready corn and soybeans.

Linzey said he is not aware of any Pennsylvania municipality that has
adopted such an ordinance, but his group has posted a sample ordinance on
its Web site. Vermont and California communities have taken action against
genetically modified seed.

The special seed offers higher yields to farmers, but environmental groups
have questioned the safety of genetically altered crops.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau has responded with a section in a bill
regulating the certification of seed. House Bill 2387 would prohibit
municipalities from regulating the registration, labeling, sale, storage,
transportation, distribution, notification of use or use of seeds.

Martin said farmers also lobbied state legislators about out-of-control
health care costs, property tax reform and regulation of manure haulers.

Jim Hook can be reached at 262-4759, or jhook@pubop.com.