By Wally Kennedy
Supporters of a proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would affirm the “right to farm” in the state say the amendment is needed to protect small farmers from radical animal rights groups.
The constitutional amendment would not allow any law to prevent farmers and ranchers from employing agricultural technology or “modern livestock production” practices.
The amendment, already endorsed by joint resolution in the Missouri House of Representatives, was debated briefly Wednesday on the floor of the Senate before it was laid over.
If the Senate eventually passes a joint resolution in support of it, it could go before Missouri voters in 2014.
The amendment is in reaction to Proposition B, dubbed the “Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act,” that was supported by the Humane Society of the United States to regulate the state’s 1,300 puppy mills. The amendment, which set operating standards for dog-breeding operations, was endorsed by 51 percent of the state’s voters in November 2010.
Supporters of the right to farm amendment say it is logical to assume that agriculture and livestock production in Missouri will be the next target of the national Humane Society and what supporters of the amendment are calling “other radical and subversive special interests.”
Opponents of the amendment say a better name for the measure would be the “CAFO/Monsanto Protection Bill” in that it would expand the power of corporate agribusiness to exploit future “agricultural technologies” at the expense of family farmers, property rights and local economies.
Opponents also argue that it could end the right of Missouri residents to exercise the initiative petition procedure where agriculture is involved, an element that was touched on during Wednesday’s debate in the Senate.
CAFOs are concentrated animal feeding operations in which thousands of animals are clustered together. In recent years, those operations have generated lawsuits against large, multistate agricultural corporations by small family farmers, including some in Barton County, who have won large settlements in connection with air and water quality problems.
Tim Gibbons, with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, which opposes the amendment along with other family farm groups, said: “This is being spun by industry lobbyists as a bill that helps family farms. The reality is this bill is not about protecting farmers.
“This bill is about protecting multinational, biotech and industrial livestock corporations at the expense of family farmers, rural communities and our food supply.”
Gibbons said House Joint Resolutions 7 and 11, and Senate Joint Resolution 22 would “forever guarantee modern farming practices” under the constitution. But “modern farming practices” are not defined.
“This is a major problem because these future practices could be anything from factory farms, to cloned animals, to corporate control and patenting of the food supply,” Gibbons said.
“These vaguely worded proposed constitutional amendments could strip local control from Missouri counties, taking away their power to protect constituents, family farmers and Missouri citizens from the negative impacts of corporate-controlled industrial agriculture. These amendments will have unintended, far-reaching and radical consequences.”
The proposed amendment is a compilation of efforts by Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, and House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, who recently won the Republican nomination for the vacant U.S. House seat in the 8th Congressional District.
Smith, in a statement about the amendment, said: “Let’s give voters the opportunity to send a strong, clear message to these subversive special interests. They need to know we will not allow their unscrupulous methods to limit our freedoms or destroy the traditions that have been handed down from generation to generation for centuries.”
Reiboldt, chairman of the House Agriculture Policy Committee, in a previous statement about the amendment, said, “It is putting language in place because we can look in the future and see what is happening in the animal rights movement.”
The amendment has the support of several agricultural groups, including the Missouri Farm Bureau and a new umbrella organization called Missouri Farmers Care. Among the members of the new group are the Missouri Pork Association, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Dairy Association, Monsanto, Cargill, and Lathrop & Gage, a law firm that has defended hog CAFO operations in northern Missouri.
Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said: “Agriculture is extremely important in Missouri. Agriculture nationwide faces ballot initiatives that have attempted to direct how farming is done. This amendment will give protection from that sort of ballot initiative.”
Hurst said criticism of the amendment’s language, in terms of not identifying modern farming practices, is not justified.
“The language is clear in that modern farming practices will be based in science in that it will be approved by university and private research to be beneficial to plants and animals,” he said.
The amendment is opposed by the Missouri Environmental Defense Alliance and the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation. The groups have said the measure’s language is unclear and could cause problems in terms of implementation.
THERE ARE SEVEN WEEKS LEFT in this legislative session for the Senate to act on the proposal that could send the measure to Missouri voters.