The Indiana General Assembly is moving to enact a bill that critics say will privilege the rights and interests of the agricultural industry.
Senate Bill 186 has recently been approved by the agriculture and natural resources committees of both houses of the legislature. The short bill will add an amendment to a part of the Indiana Code dealing with agriculture.
The first sentence of the first section of SB 186 states that it is the state’s policy to promote the agricultural sector. The second says that the Indiana Code shall be construed to protect the rights of farmers to choose among all generally accepted farming and livestock production practices, including the use of ever changing technology.
The second section states that the state department of agriculture pursue this policy by assisting agricultural businesses with the permit process required to conduct business in Indiana, serve as a liaison between agricultural businesses, state agencies, and local units of government.
Kim Ferraro, of the Hoosier Environmental Council is an opponent the bill. She claims that, if passed into law, SB 186 would compel judges, legislators, and regulators to interpret state law to favor agriculture businesses in any legal conflict with other individuals, business, or local government. She also claims that the bill is meant to serve big agricultural operations, in particular those that have recently come under attack for polluting the land, water and air around them, and for contaminating neighboring farms with their genetically modified seeds.
Yesterday, Ferraro said several owners of family farms also expressed opposition to the bill during the legislative hearings.
“There were eight or nine traditional famers who were there to say that the farm bureau and Big Ag lobbyists don’t represent their interests,” Ferraro says, “There are family farmers who are testifying said they don’t need a right like this and that this only hurts the rights of other people. I thought there were some really moving testimonials but it fell on largely deaf ears.”
Andy Dietrick of the Indiana Farm Bureau argues that SB 186 will not privilege the rights of agriculture businesses over other rights. He says it simply reiterates the mandate of the state’s agricultural department to promote farming.
“I think this is just a reaffirmation in the context of the state Department of Agriculture’s role to promote the farmers’ rights to use technologies and practices that are considered generally acceptable practices,” Dietrick says, “Things change over time and practices change over time and I think the state does affirm the right to use those practices.”
Dietrick claims that the bill will not impair local governments’ rights to pass zoning ordinances and regulations that might impact farm operations.
He also thinks that SB 186 was not intended to benefit large agricultural businesses such as CAFO’s – Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation – which in Indiana is defined as a feed-lot with over 4,000 pigs, for example. These businesses have been proliferating in southern.
“Where in the language does it say anything about CAFO or large operations, specifically?” Dietrick says, “It could be GMO or non-GMO. It could be organic. It’s about farmers’ rights to use ever-changing technologies.”
Senate Bill 186 has now passed out of the agricultural committees of both Houses. However, no date has been scheduled for it to come up for general debate.