Fewer Businesses May Examine Farm Amenities Underneath Proposed Laws – Information – Aurora Advertiser – Aurora, MO
A bill that would restrict who can conduct inspections of agricultural facilities is under consideration by lawmakers in the Missouri House Agricultural Policy Committee.
Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, said Bill HB 574 would protect agricultural facilities from “fishing expeditions” by inspectors. He also highlighted the need for agricultural facilities to provide additional protection against the risks of biosecurity violations, such as the introduction of the deadly African swine fever in closed herds by unauthorized or inexperienced inspectors.
“These viruses are out there that could be brought in by someone who doesn’t know,” Haden said.
The bill is similar to last year’s bill that was supposed to be up for debate on the floor of the house on the day the chambers were adjourned over COVID-19. This bill differs slightly in that it specifies a class B offense for violations of the specified provisions.
The current version of the bill also includes new language that would restrict who can provide evidence or testimony in court about conditions or activities on farms or facilities. Rep. Tracy McCreery, D-St. Louis noted concern about this additional language.
“I have a feeling that we are entering a different branch of government and limiting the ability of people trying to do the right thing within the branch of justice,” said McCreery.
The bill would give certain regulatory agencies the exclusive power to produce evidence or testimony in civil or criminal prosecutions relating to violations of state law on the farm. These agencies include the Missouri Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the local county sheriff, and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Bob Baker, a representative for the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, spoke out against several sections of the bill. If an employee or a neighbor noticed illegal activity on a farm property while the bill was drafting, they would not be able to give their testimony in court, Baker said.
“Ironically, that’s not even good for the farmers,” said Baker. “If a crime is committed on their farm, (the farmer) cannot testify.”
Haden said this section is unlikely to be revised, although it is likely to consider changes that would ensure the bill does not prevent the authority of city police departments and state highway police officers from enforcing the agricultural land law .
Other organizations provided written testimony against the bill, but no copies were made available to the Missourian Tuesday.
Proponents of the law claimed it would provide farmers with clarity about the authority of inspectors and their purposes for inspecting agricultural facilities.
“It also provides clarity for the respective agencies to understand what powers they have,” said Mike Deering, a representative for the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association. Supporters of the law include the Cattlemen’s Association, the Missouri Soybean Association, the Missouri Pet Breeders Association, the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners, the Missouri Farm Bureau, and the Missouri Corn Growers Association.
According to informative statements by Eleni Bickell of the MOST Policy Initiative, information about who is authorized to conduct on-site inspections in which agricultural facilities is often unclear, and there is often unclear how often such inspections must be carried out. Bickell stated that non-farm food safety inspections would not be affected by this bill.
The bill would prohibit the county health authorities from having the authority to conduct environmental inspections of facilities.
“I don’t know of any health department in the district that has someone with enough expertise to go to one of these units,” said Haden.
Charter counties and all cities that are not in a county are exempt from the provisions of this statute.
Senator Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, has tabled a similar bill, SB 254, which has not yet been assigned to the committee.