Missouri ‘right to farm’ amendment could be used as a right to harm

07/29/2014 5:39 PM

07/29/2014 6:43 PM

Campaign spending on the Missouri ballot measure misleadingly called the “right to farm” amendment is approaching $1.2 million, and supporters account for two-thirds of that — $800,000.

Obviously, more is at stake here than may be apparent to Missourians who will go to the polls on Tuesday. Amendment 1 on the ballot will ask them to guarantee that “the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed.”

That sounds benign. Same for the message of the Missouri Farm Bureau, which says the measure is needed to create “regulatory certainty” to protect the practices that farmers and ranchers currently use.

But what the farm bureau, along with corporate backers and some (but not all) of the state’s agricultural groups actually want is a waiver from public accountability. They want immunity from laws designed to protect the food supply, the environment and animals. And they want a license to run roughshod over local communities that might seek a buffer from factory farms.

Even the notion that current practices should be enshrined is dangerous, given the constantly evolving science of agriculture and food safety.

Scientists are raising concerns about the routine use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry, for instance, saying it may give rise to drug-resistant bacteria. Likewise, we have more to learn about the safety of genetically modified crops and concentrated animal feeding operations.

As John Ikerd, a professor emeritus of agriculture at the University of Missouri, has pointed out, to confer a blanket protection on those practices as they now exist would be like “granting tobacco companies and smokers the constitutional rights to forever continue their practices of the 1970s.”

Consumers increasingly want to know that the animals raised for food are treated as humanely as possible. Amendment 1 would be used as a weapon to prevent Missouri from enforcing laws protecting livestock and poultry.

It could also be used to undermine Missouri’s already flimsy regulations on the state’s many dog-breeding operations.

And if the captive deer industry ultimately has its way, Amendment 1 could be used to thwart regulations on ranchers who seek to fence in specially bred “trophy” deer and present them as prey to shooters who will pay large amounts of money to bag the antlers. Gov. Jay Nixon recently vetoed a bill that sought to classify the trophy deer as livestock, not wildlife. Supporters in the legislature are likely to try again, however.

The Missouri Farm Bureau argues that the right to farm and ranch should be equal to the protections of speech and religion already in the Missouri Constitution. But freedom of speech and religion are granted to all Missourians. Amendment 1 seeks to carve out one special industry, perhaps to the detriment of the general public.

The right to farm as most people understand it is not under attack in Missouri. A statute already protects farmers from unreasonable lawsuits by neighbors and other encroachments. Economically, many Missouri farmers are thriving.

It’s important to know that the “right to farm” push didn’t begin in Missouri. It is part of a concerted nationwide effort by agribusiness and its political allies to give a free pass to corporate agriculture.

Missouri should not yield the right to control its own destiny through the legislative process. Voters should say ‘no’ to Amendment 1.

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