Patriotic lipstick on a corporate pig

by Ken Midkiff

COLUMBIA, Mo 8/1/14 (Op-Ed) -- Farming is already one of the least regulated of all US industries.  It is exempt from major portions of the Federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.  EPA Superfund laws regulating hazardous waste cleanup don't even touch it.  And in Missouri, farmland is the least taxed of all property.

Nonetheless, the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is promoting a Missouri state Constitutional amendment that sounds fine – the so-called "Right to Farm".   But instead of protecting family farmers, Amendment 1 could reduce or even negate what few farming regulations exist, in a big win for corporate ag giants such as Cargill, ConAgra, and Monsanto. 

Those same ag giants are among Right to Farm's giant financial backers.

Amendment One's wording sounds harmless enough, even patriotic: "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agriculture and ranching shall not be impinged?"

But it's real meaning is far from benign.   All current and future laws and regulations judges and legislators might interpret as "infringing on the right to farm or ranch" -- such as humane treatment of farm and ranch animals -- are at risk.

If some longtime rural resident objects in court to the smell of a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), or files a lawsuit claiming a decrease in property values (properties adjacent to a CAFO typically decrease in value by 30%), the Right to Farm amendment could protect the CAFO owner/operator.

Decreasing the stench could be considered infringing on the CAFO's "right to farm."

It is no accident that this fine-sounding piece of crapola emerged shortly after the Humane Society of the United States successfully campaigned for restrictions on puppy mills.  Missouri citizens voted overwhelmingly to ensure that dogs were housed humanely and fed and watered appropriately.

Big Ag fought back, however, and our right-wing legislature amended the citizen-enacted puppy mill law to appease their corporate donors -- at least temporarily.

As the appeasement waned, Big Ag went into action, introducing and promoting Amendment One.   Corporations and their legions of lawyers and lobbyists know that Constitutional amendments are big deals:  they trump their smaller legal brethren, laws and regulations.

And THAT is what Amendment 1 is all about: nullifying laws to protect Big Ag.

If today we can toss out legally-enforced humane treatment of puppies, these corporate ag giants figure, tomorrow we can dispense with similar treatment for farm animals such as chickens and hogs.   We can revoke Missouri laws that regulate CAFOs which house thousands of hogs and millions of chickens for a life that is – as Thomas Hobbes said – "nasty, brutish and short."

With a properly-worded Constitutional amendment, Big Ag knows it can silence potential litigants and squelch potential challenges to its growing muscle on the American ranch and farm.

Make no mistake -- real farmers, not CEOs of agribusinesses -- won't benefit at all from Amendment 1.   Family farmers don't place hogs and chickens in CAFOs.  Large corporations do.

So if conferring on ConAgra or Monsanto the "right" to farm trips your ticket, vote YES.   But if you really want to protect family farmers, vote NO.

Though we've heard differently of late, corporations are not people with certain inalienable rights.   But family farmers, ranchers, rural residents, and the good citizens of Missouri are people with rights, one of which is to vote down the patriotically-worded lipstick on this corporate pig.