The ‘Right to Farm’ bill, Amendment 1 on the Aug. 5, ballot, has gained some opposition in Southwest Missouri.
Sponsored by Dist. 160 State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, the ballot language for Amendment 1 reads:
“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the rights of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?
The potential costs or savings to governmental entities are unknown, but likely limited unless the resolution leads to increased litigation costs and/or the loss of federal funding.”
Reiboldt noted that such legislation has been in the works for about six years, and leadership was passed on to him when he became the house ag policy chairman a couple of years ago. He said the measure was finally approved by both the House and the Senate this year to pass on to voters to amend into the state Constitution.
Reiboldt explained that this is similar to the right to bear arms, which is guaranteed by both the U.S. and Missouri Constitutions.
“This is what our amendment says, that Missouri farmers and ranchers have the right to farm and to raise their livestock,” he said. “We feel like that’s important protection going into the future in Missouri because of outside organizations and interests that would like to disrupt, especially our animal agriculture industry. That is Missouri’s No. 1 industry.”
Reiboldt said it was extremely difficult to get the wording just right on the legislation, because Missouri has such a diversified agriculture industry. He said cotton, rice and truck farming dominate in the Southeast, beans and corn, along with hogs are predominant in the North, and the cattle and poultry industries reign in Southwest Missouri.
“We are very diversified as an agricultural state, so getting everybody on board and finding the kind of language that would help everybody and hurt nobody was basically what we tried to do, and we feel like that the way the ballot initiative is written, that going into the future it will offer some protection to the farming industry in Missouri.
“We’re not going to protect the bad apples, the bad producers, and every industry has people that don’t do it right, and agriculture is no exception. But this will not protect them; it’s not designed in any way to protect the bad players.”
Reiboldt explained that agriculture is a highly regulated industry, with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulations to maintain, not to mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). When he was a dairy producer selling to out-of-state markets, Reiboldt said he also underwent inspections from the ag departments of Missouri, Texas and Oklahoma.
“I’m used to various kinds of inspections and regulations,” he said.
Reiboldt said opposition to Amendment 1 statewide is limited, led by Missouri Rural Crisis. He said several points of contention that he has heard do not actually pertain to the amendment.
“It’s just not there,” he said. “Foreign ownership of Missouri farm land, we dealt with that separately. This amendment will not allow anybody to come in here and trash our state, pollute our state. It’s not designed for corporate farmers any more than it’s designed for the Amish and Mennonite farmers in our state, it’s designed to protect everyone that plays by and obeys the rules. We’re not opposed to reasonable regulations and restrictions, we’re opposed to the unreasonable regulations and restrictions that groups like HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) try to put on us so they can further their ultimate goal, which is completely do away with all animal agriculture in the state.”
Regarding foreign ownership of land, he said the Chinese were able to obtain a large portion of Premium Standard Farms, a sale that was not approved by anyone in Missouri.
“It was approved by our U.S. federal government and the Obama Administration, and we need to remember that,” he said. “We were opposed to that. They came in the back door, and got around Missouri law.”
He said foreign interests had set up American corporations and buy it in that corporation. However, new legislation approved this year caps foreign ownership of Missouri farmland at 1 percent.
“In the final analysis, the approval was given by the Obama Administration, so why would these groups try to tie this with the farming rights bill?” Reiboldt asked. “I would hope that they would at least be fair in what we’re trying to do for agriculture, it is not about corporate farming.”
Reiboldt said opponents have claimed the amendment would give farmers the right to do anything they want to do, from polluting our water to growing anything they want, including marijuana.
“That’s totally false,” he said. “It’s against local, state and federal law to grow marijuana. This is not going to give you the right to grow marijuana.
“If you use chemicals, you still have to have a chemical license, an applicator’s license, you still have to buy it under the laws and the restrictions. These are laws the federal government has put on us, and we have to abide by them.”
Another argument made against the truth, he said, is that this would give more local control to county health boards, which Reiboldt soundly rejected.
In this growing world, Reiboldt said we must produce about 70 percent more food by 2050, and we will need better utilization of water, land and technology to get to that point.
“This is just to give us that additional protection going into the future, and we feel like it’s important,” he said.
Ultimately, he said passage of Amendment 1 would provide a constitutional guarantee that farming is a right that cannot be taken away. He admitted passage would probably lead to court challenges.
Reiboldt said the amendment will guard against unreasonable regulations; and explained it is needed in this time when some people view livestock almost in a human way. He noted, “We have people – it’s so ridiculous – that want to give animals a legal right to sue their owners, and that’s pretty far-fetched.” Reiboldt concluded, “Ultimately the goal is to completely make us all vegetarians, I guess.”
He said lawmakers took this route to give the state’s citizens the right to vote on it. He said citizens would be affected by additional regulations that would hike the price of food; and the cost of feeding their family is a consideration. Reiboldt added that Missouri agriculture provides many direct and indirect jobs in the state.
Reiboldt said Missouri Farmers Care is a big supporter of Amendment 1, representing 44 of the state’s agribusinesses, in addition to Missouri Farm Bureau, MFA, and Rural Electric Cooperatives.
One group that does not support Amendment 1 is Southwest Missouri Democrats. Krista Stark, executive director, said the group feels the measure will open up the rights that currently are reserved for small family farmers to large corporation farms.
“They also feel that if Amendment 1 passes, it will take away not only local, but also supervisory jurisdiction on those matters,” Stark said. “We feel like small family farmers already have the right to farm and this bill really is aimed at giving corporations rights that should be reserved for citizens.”
Stark explained that the wording in the fair ballot language states the word “citizens.”
“However,” she said, “If you actually read the amendment, the word ‘citizens’ is not present, it says ranchers or farmers, and if you look back to rulings that have been made by the Supreme Court stating that corporations are not people, we feel like this could open up the door to corporations having more rights, having to do with farming as well as multi-national corporations.”
Starks said Southwest Missouri Democrats are concerned about a situation in Iowa where multi-national corporations bought up farmland, soured that farmland and then picked up and moved out, leaving the residents to fix it.
She said the amendment could prevent the future labeling of GMOs (genetically modified organisms).
“The amendment is very vague, it’s so vague you could drive a truck through it, to be quite honest. We feel like it will open up several lawsuits in the future, which of course our state will have to pay for trying to hammer out exactly what this vague language means.”
She also expressed concerns about the corporations backing the legislation. Providing the most financial support is Missouri Farmers Care, but Stark said Monsanto and Cargill are Nos. 1 and 2, respectively, in financing support for the amendment.
“They’re concerned about the fact that this looks like a corporately backed legislation,” she said. “We don’t think it should be modeled after pilot legislation that has been tried in other states.”
Stark is also fearful of unintended consequences.
“I believe Rep. Reiboldt is a family farmer; and I believe that he has a small family farm, and I think that even he is not maybe aware of some of the consequences that could happen from this legislation. I think that he goes about this with the best of intentions, but I feel like this could open up rights to corporate farmers, and therefore hurt small family farms in the future; and that’s not something we want to see happen in Missouri,” she said.
Growing up on a small Southwest Missouri farm, Stark pleaded, “I don’t want to see anything be put into the Constitution of Missouri that will ultimately hurt small family farmers.”
Stark said Southwest Missouri Democrats have not been in contact with HSUS or other groups in opposition to Amendment 1.
“Most of the people that we’ve had come to us and be against this are farmers, small family farmers themselves that have put together this effort to move against the amendment,” Stark said.
She said the fear is this could lead to the small family farmer being pushed out of the state.
Stark said this affects her personally, as her daughter had a kidney and bladder condition as an infant that led to doctor’s orders to purchase only hormone and antibiotic-free meats. She has fed her family with eggs from free-range chickens and hormone and antibiotic-free meats since.
“So I don’t want to see any legislation go into effect that’s going to prevent me from actually being able to be sure that the meats that I feed my children are hormone and antibiotics-free, or GMO free,” Stark said. “I want to be able to make a choice. Republicans talk a lot about choice, but if this legislation could lead to the idea that GMOs can’t be labeled or that we can’t discern, or that huge CAFOs [concentrated animal feeding operations] can buy up land next to small family farms and pump their water to house their GMOs and their antibiotics into the soil and run off onto a small family farm, and no longer be sure that the meat that I’m feeding my children is hormone and antibiotics free.”
A simple majority is needed for passage of Amendment 1, the “Right to Farm” bill, on Aug. 5.