July 13, 2018

Pennsylvania Township Bans ‘Industrial Farming,’ Is That Legal?

 |  By: Anna-Lisa Laca

In a 2-1 vote, the supervisors of Todd Township in Huntingdon County, Penn., adopted a Community Bill of Rights ordinance that bans industrial farming. Proponents say it protects family farms, opponents say it’s anti-farming. Whether or not the ordinance will even hold up to state law is yet to be determined.

“The rights-based law prohibits farming operations when the animals are not owned locally and when most of the farm’s revenues do not stay within the Township,” according to Chad Nicholson, Pennsylvania community organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) which is the organization that drafted the ordinance. The bill also bans farms that are contrary to the scenic and esthetic values that “provide Todd Township’s rural character.”

According to Nicholson, industrial farming operations threaten drinking water supplies, allow inhumane treatment of livestock and severely lower the quality of life for members of the community. 

“Todd Township residents and supervisors have worked tirelessly over the past year to protect their community from industrial-scale agriculture operations, which would harm the environment, treat animals inhumanely, and destroy the community’s quality of life,” he says. “This isn’t just about farming, it’s about a community’s right to protect itself from harmful corporate activities that are permitted and legalized by our own state government.”

Proponents of the bill say the ordinance is actually in support of farmers.

 “This is actually a pro-farming ordinance,” said Stephanie Perez, a member of Todd Township Community Action, the group that spearheaded the creation of the ordinance. “We want to make sure that our farming heritage is allowed to continue in Todd Township, which means protecting our environment and our family farms from the harms that come from industrial farm operations.”

Opponents, including the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau Federation (PFBF), say the bill is anti-farming. 

“We believe the ordinance is anti-farming, because it would limit Right to Farm law protections provided to Pennsylvania farmers and inhibit their ability to grow or make changes on the farm,” says Mark R. O'Neill of PFBF. “This in turn threatens the ability of the next generation of the family to return to the home farm. More than 98% of all farms in Pennsylvania are considered family farms by USDA.”

Not only does PFBF think the bill is anti-farming, they say it violates state law. 

“The Todd Township ordinance clearly exceeds the authority granted to the township under state law,” O'Neill says. “Similar ordinances have been passed in a few other townships over the years and they have been consistently struck down by courts in Pennsylvania.”

Still, the CELDF continues to encourage townships to pass these ordinances, thereby exposing township officials to court actions and sanctions against them, O’Niell says. 

 What’s more is that 13 years ago a state law known as ACRE (Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment) was passed by the state General Assembly and signed into law by the Governor to prevent townships and municipalities from passing these illegal local farm ordinances, according to O’Niell. 

As you might expect, a request for review has already been filed with the state Attorney General’s office to challenge the legality of the ordinance.