Finding balance

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The debate concerning concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is heating up across the state and a proposed pullet house project in Eagle Rock has brought the subject close to home. For the past few weeks, the Cassville Democrat has published letters to the editor concerning CAFOs. The majority of the letter writers raised issues concerning how this CAFO would affect water quality and tourism. One letter, from Missouri Farm Bureau President Charles Kruse, viewed the issue from the side of the state's livestock producers and farmers. In the spirit of public debate, we have allowed our commentary page to be a place where all views could be voiced, and again, this week, we are publishing letters on this issue.

As a journalist, I do my job best when I study both sides of the issue and write articles that are unbiased and factual. In my most recent article about a Department of Natural Resources' meeting held in Eagle Rock to discuss the proposed pullet house project, I believe I was able to present the facts of the issue and I attempted to include as many viewpoints as were presented during the public meeting.

The issue at hand is one that should capture the attention of area residents, and it's an issue that should also be handled with care. Barry County is in a unique position. We are a rural, agricultural area but also a tourist destination. A balance must be found between the interests of farmers and environmentalists, which is a difficult task for sure.

I do not believe county-wide planning and zoning or local health ordinances are the way to go. This could threaten the ability of local farmers to raise livestock and make a living. In some ways, the family farm has become an endangered segment of society due to encroaching development and stricter environmental laws. Local farmers have no desire to destroy the environment or this area's water supply. Livestock producers depend on green grass and a plentiful water supply to thrive.

On the flip side, I believe the growth of corporate farms should be regulated and watched closely, especially when it comes to water quality. The poultry industry has become a big part of Barry County's economy and we appreciate the investment made in our area. As the industry grows, I believe it would be in the industry's best interest to look closely at where it builds future poultry houses.

After writing all this, let me get to the main point of this editorial. Based on existing laws, it is unlikely area residents will be able to stop construction of the pullet house project in Eagle Rock, but it's important to note that those who have organized against unregulated growth of CAFOs in tourist areas have generated a lot of momentum and a lot of publicity for their cause. Now is the time for these area residents to join a statewide effort that was introduced last week

We wholeheartedly support a piece of legislation introduced by House Minority Leader Jeff Harris, D-Columbia, that would prohibit concentrated animal feeding operations within five miles of any state park, state historic site or property listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This is a bill that makes sense and would be a valuable tool in helping regulate where CAFOs are allowed in Barry County without infringing on a farmer's right to make a living.

Our state park system is a very valuable resource and a huge part of the Barry County economy. We know that visitors flock to Roaring River State Park for fresh air, natural beauty and the chance to land a prize Rainbow trout. Having an odor-producing CAFO close by could definitely have a negative impact on the park experience, and state legislators need to take definite action to protect Missouri's investment in its parks system.

We support this bill and encourage our local legislators to do the same. We'd also like to see more research done on the effects CAFOs have on water quality, particularly in the area of Table Rock Lake. Possibly buffer zones around the lake and its watersheds would be appropriate as well and could be the focus of additional legislation.