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Mark Israel

I’m a sixth-generation Georgia farmer. For 200 years, my family has lived within a mile of where I reside in Sumter County. I operate my 1,500-plus-acre farm from a location that has continually operated as a farm headquarters for well over 150 years. I’m a farmer’s farmer, and no one stands to the right of me in defending property rights.

You all need to know that our state politicians are about to debate a bill that is likely to affect every farmer and rural property owner like me negatively at some point in time, in some shape or form, there’s no doubt about it. It’s called House Bill 545, a bill to amend the “The Right To Farm” Law — but what the bill actually should be called is “The Right To Harm” Bill.

This bill has nothing to do with farmers and everything to do with further opening up our state to large corporate poultry and livestock waste lagoon operations (like the mega hog farms that have ravaged North Carolina) and making it easier for them to pollute our air, land and waterways. Under HB 545, Georgia property owners will lose their best recourse against these operations when they cause damage like noxious odors, swarms of flies, contaminated wells, and other nuisances, which is fiing a case to stop the nuisance.

Almost all these operations take longer than two years to begin to generate waste on a level that will damage their neighbors. It takes years to build enough barns and buy and breed enough animals to cause damage. But under HB 545 if the damage does not start within just 24 months from when the operation moves in, you lose your right to file a case over the damage — no matter how much waste they produce or how much damage they cause.

The current law — which has existed for more than a 150 years and which this bill would repeal — is that you have four years to act from when the new operation causes harm to you. Even if the damage starts in the first two years, you will have just 24 months — instead of the four years now allowed — after the harm starts to bring a case to stop the nuisance to protect your property value and your family’s quality of life.

Why would legislators all of a sudden decide that farmers need these so-called “protections?” The fact is we don’t, and they wouldn’t protect us. Farmers like me and my neighbors have farmed under the existing Right to Farm Law for more than 30 years. There’s nothing wrong with the law we have, nothing at all, and no epidemic of lawsuits against farmers. No family farm or farming operation that I know has had a lawsuit filed against them, ever.

HB 545 isn’t about protecting farmers. In fact, the bill weakens the current Right to Farm Law that does a fine job of protecting existing farms from lawsuits. The bill is about opening the floodgates for corporate animal feeding operations with giant waste lagoons. It’s about immunizing these operations when they move into Georgia and harm you by taking away your more than 150-year-old property rights.

Listen, I’m far from a radical environmentalist, and I’m not against anyone making a living on their land. But the ability to bring a lawsuit is the only way to keep these operations accountable to their neighbors for the damage that they cause. This is especially true given that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has outsourced much of the enforcement of the laws on these operations to the Department of Agriculture.

After North Carolinians took a stand against damage from foreign-owned mega hog operations, lobbyists and insurance companies for corporate poultry and livestock operations moved on to Georgia.

They are pressuring our politicians to make it easier for these operations to move into and ruin our state under the guise of protecting farmers.

Please take a stand with me, a sixth-generation farmer, against HB 545. Please immediately call and email every state senator and voice your opposition to HB 545 and support the existing Right to Farm Act. If you don’t, I promise you that you will wish you had. Stand up and fight for your rights as citizens, farmers, and property owners.

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Mark Israel is a sixth-generation Georgia farmer. He runs a 1,500-plus acre farm and the Israel Farm Supply Co. in Sumter County.

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