Midwest farm groups step up fight against factory farms

Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment leads the fight back against corporate ag in the heartland

July 11, 2019 – In state capitals across the Midwest, opposition to legislation pushed by corporate agriculture lobbyists to favor factory farms continues to grow. The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE), made up of rural-based, family farm membership groups in Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota and Missouri, organized to hold factory farms and legislators accountable for the harm these operations do to independent family farmers, rural communities, and our water and air.

In each state, family farmers, local elected representatives and citizens, both rural and urban, stood up and acted against factory farm lobbyists and their attempts to pass laws that fuel the industrialization and corporate control of livestock markets, while eroding protections from factory farms:

In Minnesota, the Land Stewardship Project (LSP) successfully beat back a series of efforts by the industry to tilt the playing field toward factory farms by weakening permitting requirements and environmental review of factory farms. Also, though it didn’t pass, LSP built legislative support to repeal the manure lagoon property tax exemption and to reinstate a Citizens’ Board, a powerful tool that would require a public environmental review of factory farms. LSP also won a series of policies that support independent family farmers protecting the land, including additional money for the Forever Green Initiative that helps develop markets for cover crops and perennials; boosts resources for Farm-to-School programs that benefit farmers, kids and rural communities; and increases funding for meat and poultry inspection that is important for independent meat processors and small- and medium-sized livestock farmers who sell directly to consumers.

In Missouri, the Missouri Rural Crisis Center organized a major fight to protect county level, local control over regulating corporate factory farms. Because state protections are almost non-existent, 20 rural counties in Missouri have passed health ordinances that enact common sense safeguards to protect communities from pollution, health impacts and environmental damage caused by corporate-controlled CAFOs. After an enormous fight, the state legislature ultimately passed a bill that strips counties of the right to pass new health ordinances. As part of the campaign, MRCC engaged tens of thousands of Missourians who contacted their legislators to stop this attack on their right to protect their property, air and water and communities from the negative impacts of corporate industrial agriculture. 

“This campaign was about more than protecting Local Control,” said MRCC. “It was focused on undue corporate influence on our government and democratic process, and the negative impacts of factory farms on family farms, rural communities, water and air, and our food system. This example, the taking of local control from our rural counties, shows how willfully out-of-touch our Governor and state legislature are with Missourians from every corner of the state. CAFOs make up only 1/2 of 1% of Missouri’s farming operations, around 500 out of nearly 100,000. Our elected representatives should work to protect the majority of farm families and rural Missourians, instead of a small number of corporate-controlled CAFOs.” MRCC is continuing to organize around the enormous power built during this campaign. 

MRCC also successfully defeated a bill to ban local elected representatives from inspecting corporate CAFOs to enforce local ordinances; and forced a vote on the House floor on an amendment to stop foreign corporate ownership of Missouri farmland

In Iowa, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement built legislative support for two major bills challenging the factory farm industry. One, called for a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. Iowa currently has over 10,000 factory farms and over 750 impaired waterways. A moratorium would put a halt on the construction of factory farms so Iowa could address the factory farm and clean water crisis in the state. CCI organized to get 20 legislative sponsors/supporters in the House and 5 in the Senate. Another bill closed a tax law loophole that makes factory farm manure pits exempt from property taxation. This preferential property tax treatment shifts the property tax burden onto neighboring small farmers and rural residents. Through a fiscal impact statement, CCI uncovered that at least $4.5 million dollars in revenue are lost through this property tax exemption. If the bill had passed this funding could have been used for infrastructure, education, hospitals or other public entities. Both bills were blocked by Republican leadership despite growing momentum for a moratorium and changes to the factory farm industry. CCI also campaigned against a factory farm industry-backed revised Ag-gag bill, designed to intimidate employees and neighbors of factory farms from exposing unsafe working conditions, animal abuse, and environmental violations. While the law passed, CCI joined a lawsuit with the ACLU and other allies challenging this new bill in the court system. CCI, along with Food and Water Watch and Public Justice, also filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa in the fight for clean water.

In South Dakota, Dakota Rural Action (DRA) beat back a pair of bills pushed by CAFO backers designed to use public money to incentivize counties to approve new CAFOs. One bill would have allowed up to $200,000 of the contractor’s excise tax (2% on all materials and labor) levied on CAFO construction or improvements to be given to the school district in which the CAFO was built. DRA helped stop the bill, making the case that this would give CAFO investors additional leverage in the permitting process, and this was not the way to fund public education. DRA also helped stop a second tax diversion bill that would have given 50% of all taxes levied during construction or remodeling of a CAFO to the county in which it is located. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development has now started an incentive program strangely similar to these tax diversion bills, which promises counties excise tax kickbacks if they approve CAFOs. DRA is fighting that program county by county. DRA also worked successfully with members on the ground to pass a moratorium on new CAFOs in several South Dakota counties. 

The Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment (CFFE) consists of four Midwest state-based membership organizations and two national organizations fighting against corporate factory farms. CFFE works to oppose national, state and local policies propping up corporate factory farms and damaging independent family farmers, extracting wealth from our rural communities, and polluting our land, water and air. CFFE helps citizens organize and defend local control, preserve the use of public resources for the public good, and apply more democratic decision-making.CFFE is composed of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, Dakota Rural Action, Land Stewardship Project, Food & Water Watch, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.