Vote ‘no’ on Missouri ‘right to farm’ amendment in August

Missouri farming doesn’t need constitutional protection.
Missouri farming doesn’t need constitutional protection. The Kansas City Star

Missouri voters will be asked on Aug. 5 to enshrine the right of the state’s citizens “to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices,” something they’ve been doing since settlers first inhabited the land.

The uninitiated voter reading that ballot language will understandably be confused. Is farming in Missouri in trouble?

It is not. Agriculture in Missouri is a profitable industry. Amendment 1 is a concerted effort to shield factory farms and concentrated agricultural feeding operations from regulations to protect livestock, consumers and the environment. Voters should say “no” to this unnecessary and potentially harmful proposal.

Supporters say the amendment is needed to protect Missouri farmers from aggressive animal rights and environmental groups. If the Humane Society of the United States could mount an offensive against Missouri’s puppy breeding industry, the argument goes, what’s next? A call for free-range chickens and eggs, perhaps.

The argument is flawed and deceptive. Missouri is a farm state, and neither lawmakers or voters are likely to endorse radical regulations on food production.

The 2010 statewide vote to impose more regulations on dog breeders actually presents a strong argument against Amendment 1. The vote caused Missourians to become aware of shocking abuses in that industry. Tougher regulations passed at the polls but were quickly rolled back by the General Assembly. Clearly, it’s difficult enough to reform egregious practices without adding blanket protection.

This isn’t a match-up between family farmers and meddling animal rights groups. “Right to farm” amendments similar to this one are being pushed in states around the nation by agricultural corporations and groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, which promote corporate agendas. They want a free pass from pesky state and local laws that seek to protect communities and the environment from agricultural chemicals and noxious animal waste, and to ensure a safe food supply.

Amendment 1 is confoundingly vague. Even lawmakers who voted for it are conflicted about whether it would stop some or all of Missouri’s counties and cities from exercising local control over agricultural enterprises. Like a couple of other constitutional amendments on the Aug. 5 ballot, the only certain result of passage will be a call for the courts to interpret what they actually mean.

No single industry or occupation deserves constitutional immunity. It’s the legislature’s job to determine the delicate balance among the interests of farmers, consumers and communities. In putting Amendment 1 on the ballot, lawmakers sought to shirk that responsibility. Voters shouldn’t let them get away with it.