By Eli Yokley
Globe Staff Writer
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. —
State lawmakers took initial steps last week to proclaim a constitutional “right to farm” in Missouri.
On Tuesday, the House Agricultural Policy committee advanced a bill carrying an amendment to the Missouri Constitution that would affirm “the right” of Missourians to raise livestock humanely and ban any law that would criminalize the treatment of animals unless it was based on “generally accepted scientific principles.”
The constitutional amendment would not allow any law to prevent farmers and ranchers from employing agricultural technology or “modern livestock production” practices.
“It is putting language in place because we can look in the future and see what is happening in the animal rights movement,” said committee Chairman Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho.
Reiboldt, a dairy farmer from rural Newton County, said he is concerned that someone could theoretically sue a farmer on behalf of a mistreated animal if animals are not defined as property.
“When you give an animal a right, some would even carry that as far as to say that animal could even have a right to sue its owner,” Reiboldt said. “We know and we understand that it is a person’s property. That animal does not have constitutional rights.”
The bill is a compilation of efforts by Reiboldt and House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, who joined Reiboldt in testifying in its favor. Smith, who won the Republican nomination for U.S. House in the 8th Congressional District recently, used the opportunity to tout his agricultural bona fides as he begins his congressional campaign in the rural southeast corner of the state.
“Let’s give voters the opportunity to send a strong, clear message to these subversive special interests,” he said in a statement. “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.”
The amendment has the support of several agricultural groups, including the Missouri Farm Bureau, but did face opposition during the hearing from the Missouri Environmental Defense Alliance and the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation. Those two groups said the bill’s language is unclear and could cause problems in terms of implementation. Nonetheless, the bill received unanimous support from Republicans and Democrats alike on the committee.
House Speaker Tim Jones, speaking with reporters upon completion of legislative action last week, said he is supportive of the bill and plans to bring it before the full House soon.
“Agriculture and agribusiness is the No. 1 industry in our state, and if we want to continue feeding and clothing our populations, we better protect our agriculture industry from outside attacks,” he said. “I do think it is a problem and something that needs to be addressed and shored up in our constitution.”
If approved by the General Assembly, the constitutional amendment would be placed before voters in 2014.