Big stink over factory farms

 

UTAH

As more large-scale confined animal feeding operations move into the rural West, state and local governments are slowly moving to regulate the industry (HCN, 4/15/02: Raising a stink). But in Utah, a new state law has aborted one county's attempts to make such operations criminally liable for their impacts on local communities.

A bill passed by the state Legislature in February amends the Agricultural Protection Act to shelter agricultural operations from criminal prosecution as well as civil lawsuits. Republican Sen. Leonard Blackham, a large-scale turkey farmer, says he drafted the new legislation because federal and state laws already require farmers to follow "sound agricultural practices."

The bill heads off an attempt by southwest Utah's Iron County to regulate a million-hog industrial agricultural operation called Circle Four Farms. The original Agricultural Protection Act was pushed into law when state and county officials began courting Circle Four, a consortium of four large-scale pork producers; the Act protects operations like Circle Four from civil lawsuits alleging a public "nuisance."

But as Circle Four has grown, so have local residents' complaints about constant odors and impacts to their quality of life, says Iron County Attorney Paul Bittmenn. Since the Act precludes civil action, the county was forced to seek another way to regulate those impacts. Last year, it adopted an ordinance drafted by Bittmenn's office that makes industrial farming operations such as Circle Four accountable to criminal nuisance laws when surrounding communities are impacted by odors or other effects.

Now, says Bittmenn, the new amendment makes citizen recourse against such smelly operations almost impossible. Bittmenn says he believes the law is unconstitutional, but it can't be challenged until it is enforced.

 

Copyright © 2002 HCN and Tim Wagner

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