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Linn County Leader - Brookfield, MO
  • Right To Farm Ballot Language Misleading?

  • The ballot language for the proposed Right To Farm amendment (Amendment One) to the Missouri Constitution seems harmless enough: “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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  • The ballot language for the proposed Right To Farm amendment (Amendment One) to the Missouri Constitution seems harmless enough: “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?”
    At first glance, the proposed constitutional amendment seems to guarantee what both its supporters and opponents want: protection from outside interests who want to change the way of life of the traditional family farmer. But appearances can be deceiving.
    It’s worth noting that the small family farmers both sides are so determined to ‘protect’ produce only a small portion of the livestock and row crops that actually make it onto grocery store shelves for human consumption. For some time now, industrial producers have grown the lion’s share of what makes it to the consumer’s dining table, largely as a result of their ability to meet both the volume and quality of food consumers demand. That’s not to completely discount the contributions of small family farmers and their right to continue operating in the traditional manner, or the importance of the niche they occupy, however.     
    But the state constitutional amendment’s proponents and opponents disagree on who the outsiders threatening the way of life of traditional farmers in Missouri are.
    The state legislators backing Amendment One, as well as the long list of corporate agricultural producers they support, argue that the dangerous outsiders are groups of animal rights activists like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS); they have already successfully impacted how many breeding dogs a producer can have. And to supporters of Amendment One, it’s a short step from controlling the breeding of dogs to regulating the way livestock are produced. Advocates of Amendment One point to the success of Proposition B in 2010, a law that now limits the use of gestation and veal calf stalls. When the HSUS and other animal rights activists successfully argued that the use of the stalls is inhumane, producers lost one of their means of controlling livestock that become aggressive when they’re pregnant.
    For opponents of Amendment One (Right To Farm), the ‘outsiders’ are coming from a great deal farther away (i.e., China), but are in the process of setting up house in northern Missouri’s back yard.
    State Representative Bill Reiboldt (R-Neosho) sponsors the Right To Farm (i.e., Amendment One) amendment that will now be left to voters to approve or reject during next month’s primary election. It’s Rep. Reiboldt’s hope that if the Right To Farm bill amends the Missouri Constitution, it will “give farm families the constitutional guarantee that they’ll be able to continue...farm[ing] without interference of out-of-state groups who might come in and try to, in some way, disrupt our agricultural farming practices.”
    Page 2 of 2 - And Dr. Alan Wessler, Vice-President of Missouri Farmers Care, adds, “A lot of our producers...are such size that they can’t handle lawsuits that take a lot of money. The farming rights amendment will help prevent that.”
    Those who oppose the proposed Right To Farm amendment counter that far from protecting small family farms, the measure gives free rein to large corporate producers like Smithfield Foods to continue expanding without fear of ‘nuisance lawsuits’ over odors, flies, and runoff that are bound to be present when livestock are confined in the kinds of numbers only a large corporate operation can handle.
    Furthermore, former Missouri Senator Wes Shoemyer and current Scotland County Commissioner Chipper Harris have warned the Linn County Commissioners that if the promoters of the Right To Farm amendment are worried about outsiders interfering with Missouri’s family farmers, they should reserve their concern for China. In a letter dated June 22, Shoemyer and Harris accurately observe that Smithfield Foods has been purchased by the Chinese company Shuanghui International Holdings that just acquired 50,000 acres in northern Missouri. They further contend that if the Right To Farm Amendment is passed by voters during the August primary, Smithfield Foods will be free to purchase more land in our state than Missouri Legislature previously allowed.
    In 2010, the HSUS launched an animal cruelty investigation of a Smithfield Foods CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) in Virginia.
    Finally, although the official ballot language voters will see when they go to the polls next month gives no indication of this, the Fair Ballot Language that voters won’t see when they go to the polls on Aug. 5 states, “A ‘yes’ vote will amend the Missouri Constitution...subject to any power given to local government under Article VI of the Missouri Constitution.“ Instead, the voters will see official ballot language that reveals nothing about the impact of Amendment One on the ability of local government to regulate CAFOs.
    While the official ballot language won’t refer to local government protections, the letter from Shoemyer and Harris warns, “The clause to be added to our constitution by Amendment One makes specific reference to Article VI, which contains Missouri constitutional provisions relating to ‘local government’...[However,] only charter counties are granted additional constitutional authority to adopt their own ordinances and rules, and out of Missouri’s 114 counties only four have achieved charter status [and neither Scotland nor Linn Counties are charter counties]. If Constitutional Amendment One passes, you will be left without any ability to provide reasonable health and welfare safeguards for neighbors living in the rural areas of your county.”
    On three separate occasions in as many days last week, the LCL contacted the Missouri Attorney General’s Office for confirmation that Article VI of the Missouri Constitution doesn’t include local government protections for unchartered counties such as Linn. We explained why we were calling in detail and the receptionist advised we would receive a call back. None of our calls were returned.

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