The story has been told in various fashions through the years but in general this is how it goes:
A person from the city pays his first visit to a prosperous cattle farm and sensitive nasal tissues that are accustomed to smelling exhaust fumes are assaulted by the smell of the barnyard.
“What is that awful smell?” the city dweller asks. “That, my friend,” responds the proud farmer, “is the smell of money.”
The legislature has sent Governor Nixon a bill that says people living near great big pig farms cannot keep filing nuisance suits against the farms because the odors from the farms are hurting property values of the adjacent farms. The legislature, thus, has separated smell from money for people living near corporate hog farms where smell means money.
The basic points are these: Pigs poop. Poop stinks.
Big pig farms that raise lots of little pigs produce a lot of pig poop. The big pig farm companies say they try to control the odor and they’ve made a lot of progress in doing so and much of the continuing criticism of eau de pigpoop is based on old technology.
So the legislature has sent the governor a proposed law that says nearby farmers can only recover an amount equal to the fair market value of their property through nuisance suits. Big Pigpoop Inc. might continue to stink up the place, but neighbors cannot file more nuisance suits. They can still file lawsuits alleging poopstink is bad for their health and things like that. But nuisance suits are forbidden once the value of the property has been paid by the nearby Confined Animal Feeding Operation, the CAFO.
Furthermore, if the farmer who has been paid by Big Pigpoop Inc. sells the property, the future owner cannot file a nuisance lawsuit against BPI.
A lot of effort has gone into this issue in this legislative session. Here’s why:
North Missouri, a part of our state that is extremely rural and is continuing to lose population, is increasingly realizing the blessings of corporate farm operations such as Premium Standard Farms. Big Pig, as we are fond of calling corporate hog farms in our newsroom, is an economic lifeline to north Missouri. Maryville Senator Brad Lager, who handled the nuisance bill in the Senate, argues that Premium Standard pumps about $75 million dollars into the north Missouri economy through the 3,000 people who work for it. Premium Standard has made noises about shifting operations to Iowa, which has a no-nuisance-suit policy such as the one the legislature has been working on.
Devastation is a word being used on both sides of this issue. The loss of those jobs and that amount of money would devastate the economies of several small towns and counties in north Missouri. On the other side are people who own nearby land who feel their property rights are being devastated by this bill.
So what does the legislation mean to adjacent landowners who win a nuisance lawsuit and four or five years later find that BPI still has not fixed the nuisance? It means no more chance to complain through the courts. And while that farmer might have won the equivalent of his farm’s market value, what happens when he wants to sell his property to someone else? Would you want to buy land next to a Big Pigpoop operation, knowing you would have to live with odors for as long as you live there and have no legal recourse unless you can prove breathing has ruined your health?
Maybe you or a family member work at BPI. Then what are your considerations?
It’s the governor’s problem now. And the governor has been very public about tooting the horn for jobs. However, when he was Attorney General, Jay Nixon and Premium Standard Farms had an ongoing dispute about environmental issues. Jobs vs. poop. Property rights versus property rights. Economy versus environment.