STOP ‘CAFO PROTECTION BILL’ IN ARIZONA LEGISLATURE!
Your help is needed to stop SB1448, which increases the burden for citizens that would bring a nuisance action against agricultural operations with large numbers of confined animals. The bill passed the House by a vote of 34-26. This bill will likely go for a final vote in the Senate on Tuesday, so please ask your Senator to Vote No on SB1448. TAKE ACTION NOW!
Many of us volunteered on the 2006 Arizona citizen initiative campaign that banned the inhumane confinement of pregnant pigs and calves raised for veal in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). In response to increased public concern over treatment of animals and environmental effects of CAFOs, large-scale agricultural lobbyists have been pushing an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model ‘Right to Farm’ bill throughout the U.S. to prevent neighbors from bringing nuisance actions against those facilities. These measures are more accurately ‘Right to Harm‘ bills. The bills are an attempt by big agribusiness to strip away the rights of people – including small farmers, and the power of local governments from protecting themselves against pollution and other negative impacts caused by industrial agriculture.
According to a 2020 ASPCA survey, 94% of Americans believe that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty. Yet the majority of almost 10 billion farm animals raised for food annually in the U.S. live in inhumane conditions in CAFOs, where they spend their entire lives in confinement, subjected to painful procedures with no anesthetic, and are fed subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics – a practice that is largely responsible for antibiotic resistance. And the Journal Neuroepidemiology published a piece that calls for an end to factory farming to prevent the creation and spread of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. Read more in ADLA’s blog
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University are concerned that the passage of SB1448 will limit residents’ access to fair and just laws that support their rights to clean air, safe water, and a healthy environment. They warn of the alarming impacts of the passage of SB1448, citing a likelihood of zoonotic transfer of illness from industrial livestock facilities to human populations (similar to Covid-19). This bill presents risks that affect citizens’ property rights, property values, tax base, public health, food supply, and places corporate profits over humane treatment of animals and security of communities and families. You can read their letter here.
Arizona, like all other states, already has a law to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits. SB1448 drastically increases requirements for bringing a nuisance action against an agricultural operation.
SB1448 will have serious negative implications according to Arizona attorney, Howard Shanker. He states in his letter dated March 20, 2021, that there is an unfortunate common theme with this bill:
(1) the legislation purports to take on a problem that does not exist; and
(2) the specific legislative language is not intended to protect agriculture from frivolous suits, but rather to allow agricultural facilities to operate with impunity.
This legislation is a shield for wrongdoing. It is not in the public interest and/or based on sound policy. There are already sufficient protections in place to guard against frivolous litigation and the wrongful imposition of punitive damages (which is likely why the problem does not exist). This legislation does not serve its stated purpose.
The bill awards costs and fees to the prevailing party. Generally fees are not available in tort actions. This is because the prospect of having to pay a defendants’ fees could have a chilling effect on a plaintiff’s willingness to bring suit. The proposed language essentially shields agricultural operations from the prospect of having to pay punitive damages. Not only would an operation have to meet the new statutory definition of “nuisance,” it would have to have been subject to a “criminal conviction or a civil enforcement action.”
It is unconscionable to require neighbors of CAFOs to risk up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in order to protect their health or property from damages caused by CAFOs, while protecting these operations from responsibility, especially in light of inadequate government regulations and enforcement. A similar rule has had a chilling effect on nuisance cases brought against large-scale livestock operations in Wisconsin since the enactment of this law in 2009.
Moreover, SB1448 could have negative public health and financial impacts on not only Arizona, but throughout the country. Yuma County is responsible for 90% of all leafy vegetables grown in the U.S. In 2018, there was an outbreak of E. coli in lettuce from a Yuma farm that sickened at least 210 people in 36 states and killed five. The FDA traced the E. coli strain to a water canal that irrigated the Yuma lettuce farm and suspect that a nearby CAFO caused the contamination.
Under SB1448 if a crop farm owner files a nuisance suit and wins the case, the court would not be allowed to award punitive damages unless the CAFO has already been criminally convicted or has had an enforcement action against it already. This would undercut already unenforced environmental health and safety laws. And if the crop farm owner loses the case, they would be forced to pay the CAFO’s costs and fees. Also, local government would be prohibited from declaring the CAFO a nuisance if the facility is considered in compliance with nonexistent and/or woefully inadequate laws. Thus Arizona communities will be unable to protect their residents from further damage.
Read the open letter from over 22 diverse local, state and national organizations to Arizona legislators here.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Please contact your Arizona State Senator now and ask them to vote NO on SB1448! We have included talking points below that you can personalize. Contact information for senators is here. Please let us know if you receive a response from your senator or if you have questions, or need help locating your senator. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
As a resident in your legislative district, I urge you to vote NO on SB1448, which protects the interests of large-scale industrial agriculture over those of rural residents, public health, small farmers, quality of life, property rights and values, and the ability to maintain adequate property tax revenues.
This bill, in many cases, will benefit the interests of industrial agricultural entities based in other states. These out-of-state organizations have been flooding into Arizona in recent years, drawing down our aquifers at unprecedented rates, and depleting our other natural resources. Local economies suffer as small-scale farming declines. A reduced property tax base limits local government ability to provide services. There are issues statewide. Why is our legislature protecting the interests of these out-of-state entities over our own?
Johns Hopkins University researchers warn of the alarming impacts the passage of SB1448 would have. Communities surrounding concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are exposed to large amounts of pollutants that cause increased illness rates, psychological distress, and other public health problems. The most concerning being the likelihood of zoonotic transfer of illness from confined animals in CAFOs to human populations (similar to COVID-19). Arizonans need to be able to protect their public health and safety and this bill will strip away that ability.
Rather than decreasing the size of government his bill seeks to create unnecessary, and even redundant, layers of laws that we don’t need. Arizona already has a tough “Right to Farm Law,” and Arizona law already provides ample protection and penalties against frivolous lawsuits. Corporate agribusinesses are the only real beneficiaries of this bill. Government needs to work for its citizens. Far more people will be negatively impacted by passing this legislation than those who will benefit from it. Please Vote NO on SB1448.
(Photo courtesy of ASPCA)