Enshrining a right to farm in a state constitution might seem silly. However, given the fierce opposition from anti-industry activists, it may be a necessity. But doing so creates some real risks.
Next month, voters in Missouri will be asked to add an amendment to the Show Me state’s constitution. It’s deceptively straightforward: That Missourians shall have “the right to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices.”
But the so-called “Right to Farm” amendment is anything but simple and straightforward. Supporters insist that it would protect the state’s hugely important farming base, including significant pork and dairy operations. Opponents — and it’s not too difficult to figure out who they might be — claim that approval could lead to wholesale abuse of animals by both producers and breeders.
The controversy began in 2010 when Missouri voters passed a ballot measure enacting strict regulations on dog breeders operating in the state. The campaign was funded in largely by the Humane Society of the United States, which later bragged that the new rules on cage sizes and numbers of breeding dogs per facility put “hundreds of puppy mills out of business.”
The fear that hundreds of farmers might be similarly put out of business via restrictive regulations is ostensibly the rationale for this proposed constitutional amendment, which proponents claim would simply give farmers solid legal standing to challenge regulations on genetically modified crops or animal welfare issues.
“Agriculture all over the United States, not just in Missouri, is under attack from outside groups willing to spend millions to advance their agenda,” Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation, told the Kansas City Star. “We need some protections from these attacks.”
Opponents insist the proposed amendment would negate environmental and animal-protection laws now on the books.
“People already have the right to farm in this state. Putting it in the constitution is sort of a silly thing,” Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, told McClatchy News Service.
HSUS officials, for their part, argued that the real aim of the proposal is to protect factory farms and corporations such as Monsanto, as well as potentially stifle litigation targeting polluters.
A disturbing parallel
This aggressive approach by ag groups to protect farmers’ and producers’ rights, though justified, is worrisome. That’s because agriculture is standing at a crossroads similar to what the nation’s major unions faced in the 1960s.