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“Right to Farm” Amendment Stirs Up Passions in Missouri

A proposed amendment to the Missouri Constitution that's up for a vote on Tuesday sounds a little odd: It would codify the right to farm and ranch in a state known for farming and ranching. But it's drawing passionate advocacy from all sides because of its potential to affect the ability of governments to regulate farming operations.

Farmers in the Show Me State want to show their clout.

On Tuesday, they’ll get their chance. That’s when voters will decide whether to approve an amendment to the state constitution that would “ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed,” according to the question that will appear on the ballot in tomorrow’s state primary election.

If hearing that Missouri, a strongly agricultural state, needs an amendment to protect farming makes you scratch your head, you also might be surprised to learn that the issue is highly controversial—and driving a lot of political spending on both sides. Here’s where various sides stand:

Protecting a way of life: Farming and ranching groups, such as the Missouri Farm Bureau and the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, see the amendment as protecting farmers and ranchers in the state from outside influences that lack deep knowledge of the state’s agricultural economy. “When you look across the country, you see a lot of ballot initiatives that are making decisions about how farmers can farm,” Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, told The New York Times “[The amendment] doesn’t change regulations we have now, and it can’t possibly change federal law. We’re trying to stop ballot initiatives that limit farmers’ ability to use technology.”

Concerns about animal treatment and GMOs: However, industrial farming critics take issue with the amendment. They include some small farmers as well as the Humane Society of the United States, which has helped fund efforts opposing to the amendment. They argue that if it passes, the amendment could prevent lawsuits over animal mistreatment and bans on genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. “We are not against farming,” Humane Society of Missouri President Kathy Warnick told CBS affiliate KMOX-TV. “We are not against breeding. What we want—and all we want—is humane treatment and care of animals.”

But does it actually do anything? Some critics see the amendment as a waste of time—in that it would essentially guarantee the status quo. “I’ve read the language pretty carefully, and I can’t see how it results in either the claims the supporters are making or the fears the opponents are expressing,” state Rep. Chris Kelly told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “This doesn’t do anything.”

Others aren’t so sure. Erin Morrow Hawley, a law professor at the University of Missouri, says the amendment, as written, is vague and leaves much open to interpretation.

“It talks about ‘farming and ranching practices,’” Hawley told public radio station KCUR. “So that’s a rather general term and will be left up to the courts to decide what that encompasses.”

(iStock/Thinkstock)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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