How would you vote on Missouri’s ‘Right-to-Farm’ amendment?

May 21, 2013

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Next year, Missouri voters will get a chance to consider a controversial constitutional amendment that would affirm the rights of farmers to engage in "modern" farming and ranching practices.

So-called “Right-to-Farm” laws have been proposed in many states and North Dakota became the first state with similar legislation on the books when voters passed a measure there last year. The laws seek to ban ballot initiatives that would force changes in the way farmers and ranchers operate and ensure that only the Legislature has the ability to write laws regulating farming practices.

Groups that want to see tighter regulation of farming and livestock practices have used ballot initiatives as one of their main legislative weapons in the past.

Here’s what the Missouri amendment would say:

“That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri's economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.”

The Missouri state House and Senate passed the measure during the end of the legislative session last week. The House version of the bill, House Joint Resolutions 7 and 11, which were sponsored by Reps. Jason Smith, R-Salem, and Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, passed 132-25. GOP Sen. Mike Parson led the resolutions through the Senate by a vote of 28-6.

Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of many powerful ag groups like the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Pork Association, applauded the general assembly’s passage of the measure.

“It will help us make sure that we're able to bring the next generation back home to the farm,” said Chris Chinn, a Missouri farmer who often comments on agriculture policy. “But it’s also going to make sure that we're able to continue to produce food for our families and our neighbor’s families at an affordable price.”

Groups who opposed the "Right-to-Farm" measure include animal welfare advocates like the Humane Society and the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation. They’ve argued the amendment could infringe on the free speech rights of individuals protesting farm practices. The Missouri Rural Crisis Center has said the measure’s definitions are too vague.

“HJR 7&11 and SJR 22 'forever guarantees' 'modern farming practices' under the constitution," reads a call from the center not to support the measure. "But 'modern farming practices' are not defined in these bills. 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…).”

Senator Paul LeVota, D-Independence, expressed concern that the amendment could turn into another Proposition B. That’s the ballot measure Missouri voters passed in 2010, often called the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Law, that would have mandated stricter dog breeding regulations in the state. Lawmakers made numerous changes to it a year later.

“I just don’t see where the ‘Right to Farm’ has been infringed upon at all,” LeVota said on the assembly floor. “And my fear is that we are going to have this go to the vote of the people and it is going to become ‘Puppy Mill Part 2.’”

Even if voters do approve Missouri’s right to farm measure next year, city governments would still be able to regulate farmers in their jurisdictions.

How would you vote on Missouri’s "Right-to-Farm" amendment, which reads in part, "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?"

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