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CAFO Buzz by Julie Fisher

Seems there’s been quite a buzz about CAFOs lately. And this is more than the buzz emanating from CAFO flies; this is the buzz coming from four recent events, all held July 19th; the “Meet the New Ag Director” event, the State Parks Advisory Board quarterly meeting, the MDNR hosted meeting regarding the proposed Arrow Rock CAFO, and the Shoemyer Fish Fry. I attended two of those four events and follows is my report:
The State Parks Advisory Board had their quarterly meeting in Warrensburg, Thursday July 19. Since their January meeting, then again at their April meeting, a group of us has been asking them to pass a resolution to protect parks from CAFO threats. In spite of the fact that their mission statement reads, in part: “to preserve and interpret the finest examples of Missouri’s natural landscape; to preserve and interpret Missouri’s cultural landscapes; and to provide healthy and enjoyable outdoor recreation opportunities for all Missourians and visitors to the state…” (Emphasis, mine), they failed to take action. Two members with ties to Pork Producers and Farm Bureau made excuses, such as the need for more information and the need to protect Missouri agriculture. However, at this recent Warrensburg meeting, they unanimously approved a resolution to: “…urge the Director of Department of Natural Resources to initiate discussions immediately with the highest levels of leadership in the executive and legislative branches of state government and other appropriate organizations and groups to increase the protection for Missouri State Parks and Historic Sites from developments within close proximity to any state parks and/or historic site…” The resolution continues with more specifics and a final written copy will be available soon. That’s a least a step forward, however symbolic this action might be. And, it was also interesting to note that seated in the room, for what I believe was her first ever State Parks Advisory Board meeting, was no other than Lesley Holloway, Farm Bureau’s lobby-darling. She launched an effort to dissuade them from a resolution, but we “out talked” her. (It’s amazing how informed so many of us have become!)
The second momentous meeting, also held the evening of July 19, was the MDNR dog and pony about the Arrow Rock/Dennis Gessling proposed CAFO. The meeting was fairly civilized in terms of our mutual good manners. We maintained control of the evening and managed to ask all our prepared “talking point” type questions…and they were great ones.  But it was still a frustrating and often infuriating evening. We had to endure the MDNR’s song and dance about how they issue permits, how their hands are tied in terms of the law, etc. etc. Their seemingly CAFO friendly bias was demonstrated in another extremely distressing bit of information they just happened to mention. Turns out that MDNR allowed the CAFO applicant, Gessling, to change some pertinent information regarding his manure application plans. This was done without informing the public, and more importantly, without informing the Washington University Law Clinic, who had formally requested all information in the MDNR’s file on Gessling’s proposed CAFO. The Wash U Law Clinic is representing Friends of Arrow Rock (pro bono), in preparation for a Section 106 review, triggered by conflicting federal monies, utilized by both Arrow Rock and Gessling. The Clinic had based a six page letter on the missing and erroneous parts of Gessling’s original application, which, turns out, is now amended. Surprise. The big question, which I imagine will be answered soon, is how deep is this failure-to-disclose-hole that DNR just dug? As the plot thickens, we continue to appreciate Washington University’s time and attention. Glad they were there that night to hear all about it for themselves.
The big announcement of the night was Whitney Kerr’s. Whitney owns an historic home which will be directly across the road from this CAFO. He introduced himself as a representative of 25 individuals, who are prepared to sue MDNR. The premise of the suit is that in issuing CAFO permits, MDNR initiates an uncompensated “takings” of other property owners. He also said that the list of plaintiffs is growing. To our knowledge, MDNR has never faced such a law suit; some inside the department welcome the law suit as seeing it as a way to end their perceived conflict with protecting natural resources and permitting CAFOs.
This led to another frustration of the evening. Representative Joe Aull’s comments at the end of the session made me shake my head and wonder why these guys say certain things, and then I remembered it’s often a politician’s mission to fence sit. Aull said that it’s difficult to protect our natural resources while still supporting “Missouri livestock agriculture.” At that point I jumped up and asked Aull to hand the microphone to Terry Spence so that Terry, a long-time livestock family farmer, could give him a quick lesson on the difference between Missouri livestock agriculture and large corporate livestock agriculture. Of course Terry easily did so. And by the way, scuttlebutt is that Aull is considering running against Senator Bill Stouffer. Stouffer’s a great proponent of CAFOs. He has not demonstrated any ability to discern the difference between Big AG and family farms. We do hope that at least Aull can learn his lessons well.
So, other than the outcome at the Parks Advisory Board meeting, it’s safe to assume that no minds were changed, on either side of the fence. What a way for any of us to spend precious life energy.