For a number of years, the House has passed a bill to protect farming in our state, only to see that bill die in the Missouri Senate. However, in 2013, in the first half of the Ninety-Seventh General Assembly, a legislative referendum—HJR 7 & 11— was passed by both chambers. As a legislative referendum, it does not require the governor’s signature but instead goes directly to a vote of the people. If voters pass the constitutional amendment, it will make the practice of farming and ranching a constitutional right in Missouri, a right similar in scope to our basic constitutional rights of freedom of speech, religion, and the right to bear arms.
The Farming Rights Amendment will create the regulatory certainty that is necessary for farmers to grow and produce food, not only for Missourians, but for others beyond our borders. The amendment will also help guarantee that generations of family farmers will continue to have a future in farming and ranching in our state. Our state’s agriculture community is in agreement that the Farming Rights Amendment is critical to Missouri agriculture. The intent of the amendment is to help protect Missouri farmers and ranchers from misguided activist groups who pose a possible threat to Missouri’s agriculture industry.
Over the years, farming and ranching practices have changed. Perhaps the most noted change is that fewer people are directly connected to farms or ranches by occupation or through family relationships. This trend will most likely continue, and greater production will be required of fewer farmers. With fewer people doing the farming, the door will be wide open for well-funded out-of-state groups to attack the farmers with additional burdensome and expensive regulations. These regulations and prohibitions will make farming and ranching more difficult and less profitable, while potentially driving up the cost of food to consumers and could result in a serious threat to our nation’s future food supplies. It is important to note that by the year 2050, worldwide we will need to be able to produce 70% more food than we are producing today.
Strangely enough, major opposition to the Farming Rights Amendment is being led by the out-of-state animal rights activist group, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who cite three main reasons for opposing this amendment. First, they claim this amendment will destroy local control and will allow for more concentrated animal feeding operations. However, in drafting and wording this amendment, we made sure to specifically leave the power of local governments in place as required under Article 6 of the Missouri Constitution. This amendment only creates constitutional protection for law-abiding farmers and ranchers and will work side by side with local jurisdictions to protect their rights.
Secondly, HSUS says this amendment will give farmers, ranchers, and agribusinesses the power to do whatever they want. Currently, all farmers, ranchers, and agribusiness companies operate under the laws and regulations of the United States Department of Agriculture and the laws of the state of Missouri. These laws require governmental inspections for quality and safety, such as the FDA mandates. These will not go away under this amendment.
Thirdly, HSUS says that this amendment will encourage more use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). While this amendment benefits all sizes of farming operations equally and allows them to utilize technology and innovations that are in the best interest of their operations, the consumer, and the industry, the use of GMOs and GMO research is not and has never been a part of the amendment.
The Farming Rights Amendment is very broad in its protection. Nevertheless, like other constitutional protections, its meaning will be more specifically defined by future court rulings and state laws. The amendment’s language simply guarantees “the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices.” What this amendment does not do, though, is protect those who willfully violate laws and regulations.