There's been a lot of talk about local control here lately. But what does it mean, and why should we care?
Local control means that our locally elected officials can make
decisions and establish policies that affect our unique communities.
These policies might guide the development of real estate and roads, or
they might set health standards to protect air and water quality.
If communities deem state standards inadequate to protect or serve
local residents, then locally elected officials have the freedom to
choose tighter standards. Most Americans would agree that they want a
say in the laws that affect them personally.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that more than 700 farmers
have been at the Capitol since January, protesting against Missouri
Senate Bill 364. According to Missourians for Local Control, the bill
threatens to take authority away from locally elected representatives
while protecting corporate agribusiness - more commonly known as
factory farms. Missourians for Local Control is a network of community
coalitions and individuals who believe that decisions should be made at
the most local level possible, so the people most affected can
Rhonda Perry, program director of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center,
said SB 364 abolishes the constitutional rights of farmers and property
owners to legally challenge corporate livestock factories, even when
the negative impacts of those operations infringe upon their property
rights. In other words, the bill protects agribusiness at the expense
of the vast majority of independent family farmers who create the rich
rural tapestry of our state.
Hence the outpouring of protest from those who want to preserve their
property values, protect their quality of life and produce food in an
environmentally sound, humane and economically viable way. Although
those protesting are largely family farmers, anyone who wants to pass
along a clean environment and an intact democracy to future generations
will want to pay close attention to this bill and inform their elected
officials, including Gov. Matt Blunt, accordingly.
Environmental Commons, an organization founded in 2004 by environmental
policy expert Britt Bailey, said that the "local control of our food is
being systematically undermined through changing policy and market
Unfortunately, as our food supply becomes more consolidated or owned by
fewer and larger corporations, smaller independent food and
agricultural businesses have either been bought out or forced to close
because they cannot compete with larger multinational competitors.
Rural communities suffer as a result.
Linn County Associate Commissioner Randy Wade said, "Corporate
agriculture does for farming what Wal-Mart did for the uptown hardware
Wade describes two abandoned century farms in Linn and Sullivan
counties, vacated "after the arrival of Premium Standard Farms hog
houses." The Linn County commissioners had to pass a county health
ordinance to protect residents from factory farm pollution. Wade, a
registered nurse, understands the public health concerns associated
with factory farms firsthand.
"These operations hurt our citizens; they canât stand to be outside
their own homes," Wade said. "There are water problems and respiratory
Don't believe the propaganda that large-scale feeding operations are
inevitable or economically necessary. John Ikerd, agricultural
economist and professor emeritus from the University of
Missouri-Columbia, warns that profits are maximized for a handful of
powerful corporations while local money gets siphoned away from local
"The Farm Bureau is really behind these corporate farms," Wade said.
"It's a money deal in the name of protecting the family farm. But it's
really destroying the family farm. These operations don't generate
jobs, and they cost us in tax revenue."
Ikerd believes we must stand up and claim our basic rights to protect
our rural communities. With a strong collective voice, let's preserve
local control and real homeland security.
Learn more: Missourians for Local Control: www.morural.org.
Environmental Commons: www.environmentalcommons.org.
Melinda Hemmelgarn, M.S., R.D., is a clinical dietitian,
advocate for sustainable food systems and 2004-2006 Food and Society
Policy Fellow. She lives in Columbia.