Legislators and environmentalists in Indiana are engaged in a full-on tug-of-war over a Senate bill that would give enhanced support to farmers throughout the state.
If passed by the House, this bill would require Indiana law to favor farmers during legal cases, and protect farmers who use “generally accepted farming and livestock production practices” from getting sued. Organizations like the Hoosier Environmental Council and the Humane Society of the United States say these “generally accepted practices,” can lead to the pollution of waterways with pathogens and E. coli, food safety problems related to antibiotic and growth hormone use, animal cruelty, odor and air pollution. These are of huge concern and do not deserve the protection this bill would provide, they say.
But supporters disagree.
The bill’s author, Sen. Carlin Yoder, R-Middlebury, says the proposal would protect farmers long term from organizations that continually attack farming and the profession.
“When you read what we are putting in the code, it’s just a simple paragraph that says that we will continue to protect the rights of farmers,” said Yoder. “Farmers are going to continue to be able to make a living and be able to utilize their practices that are generally accepted. This translates to food on the table and being able to provide for their families.
Kim Ferraro, the Hoosier Environmental Action Council’s water and agriculture policy director and staff attorney, described potential conflicts as “infringing on the property rights of our fellow citizens.”
That relates to the support for increased farm production, which could decrease the value of homes next to new farms, she said.
Environmental and animal rights groups are urging Hoosiers to get involved and to stop the bill.
“If legislators don’t hear from their constituents on issues of concern, they necessarily won’t think that anybody cares about it and all they will be hearing from is agro-business lobbyists,” said Ferraro.
“Real people with real problems and real concerns need to be speaking out,” Ferraro said.
The Humane Society of the United States is also posting information on its website about the issue, saying that having a voice is key to stopping the bill from being written into law.
Meanwhile, supporters like Yoder are continuing to push the legislation, saying it will advance the state’s agricultural efforts.
The Indiana Farm Bureau is among the agricultural organizations that agree that there would be major benefits from such a law.
Amy Cornell, policy advisor and counsel state government relations at the Farm Bureau, said those benefits include not only support for Indiana farmers, but also a focus on producing quality food for all Hoosiers and an overall strengthened economy by protecting the rights for farmers to continue growing their business.
In a formal statement, the Farm Bureau said, “It is equally important that our laws protect the right
s of Hoosiers to advance and grow all businesses, including farms, to strengthen Indiana’s economy and make Indiana a positive place to work, play and raise a family. Farmers need to be able to choose from all farming and husbandry practices to be successful in raising food, feed, fiber and fuel for this and future generations.”
As the bill continues through the legislative process, Ferraro of the Environmental Action Council said it looks as though Indiana is headed to a time where state governmental agencies would be directed to construe state law to favor ”big agro-business.”
“So if there are two parties before a judge in a case, one the owner of a ‘factory farm’ and one an injured landowner, under this law the judge has to decide in favor of the factory farm owner,” Ferraro said.
The Indiana Senate passed the bill by a 40-8 vote on Jan. 23. It has been referred to the House Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development.