By TIM ALEXANDER
PEORIA, Ill. — Though a legislative package supporting confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) reform may soon be headed for a vote in the Illinois General Assembly, it will face stiff opposition from the minority chair of the House Agriculture Committee.
Illinois state Sen. David Koehler (D-Peoria) introduced a legislative package in late March that would tighten existing rules for CAFOs under the Livestock Management Facilities Act (LMFA). While the Illinois Senate Democrats’ legislative website lists his measures as Senate bills 1272 and 1273, the Associated Press reported last week that as many as four separate measures involving reform had been introduced at the state level, at least two of which were sponsored by Koehler. The bills are modeled after current laws in other states, including Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin, according to him. Specifically, the suite of legislation calls for all CAFOs to register with the Illinois EPA, while seeking to close a “loophole” in state law that allows the expansion of existing operations without seeking a permit.
One bill would require facilities to file a pre-construction waste management plan with the state and publicly disclose the plan upon the request of local residents and county boards. Another bill would give neighbors of proposed operations the right to challenge CAFO siting decisions made by the Illinois Department of Agriculture, the AP reported.
Koehler’s CAFO legislation is being met by opposition from state Rep. Charles “Charlie” Meier (R-Okawville), who serves as minority chair for the House Agriculture and Conservation Committee. Meier, an active farmer whose beef cattle and 1,500-acre grain operation lies 40 miles east of St. Louis, feels the proposed CAFO regulations are redundant and present a threat to the state’s top industry – agriculture.
“We need to be building this industry, not chasing this industry out of state,” he said. “When you lose too much livestock, you reach a point where it will never come back because you lose the service industries to the livestock sector.”
In addition, the CAFO bills introduced by Koehler do little that is not already required of livestock producers under the 1996 Illinois Livestock Management Facilities Act (LMFA), according to Meier.
“We have research and documentation showing we are doing this securely and safely for our environment. We have manure management plans. We take soil samples, and make sure we’re not putting too much manure on. We are highly monitored by different agencies,” said Meier, whose family farm once held hogs and dairy cows.
He is part of a multigenerational farm family that still resides on the Washington County Centennial Farm built by his ancestors. He can recall his father referring to the scent of hog manure as the smell of a “mortgage burner,” and questions the validity of anti-ag arguments from those who relocate to the countryside and are unprepared for the realities of rural living.
“If you choose to live in the country, you need to realize you are living in the country. Farms have had livestock since we’ve had farms. You need to realize you may smell hog manure from time to time,” said Meier, who maintains legislative offices in Highland and Springfield.
He is a big proponent of contract-basis hog production and regards the burgeoning livestock industry in Illinois as a financial boon to the state and rural communities. His cousin’s sons are currently raising contract pork for Illinois-based The Maschhoffs.
“I’ve seen the advantages that working relationships with farm families and families like The Maschhoffs provide,” he said. “They have managed to keep many more farm kids on the farm, so they can raise their families the way their parents and grandparents raised theirs.”
Koehler’s office was first contacted on April 3 to request an interview, along with a copy of the CAFO legislation. No response to either request was received by press time.