If your state is anything like Alabama, constitutional amendments usually don’t get much notice. In many cases, state constitutions are archaic and not practical for modern times, making it easier for legislators to simply tack on endless amendments than to go to the trouble of rewriting the whole thing.
So it’s no surprise that a state constitutional amendment on the ballot recently in Missouri got little attention on the national level. The official ballot asked: “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?”
In other words, it’s an amendment asserting the right to farm. Whoever thought such a thing would be considered even remotely necessary? Isn’t the right to farm on your own land assumed to be an unalienable right? Maybe it’s a sad commentary on the times in which we live – that no right is truly unalienable. Therefore, all rights require some clarification.
The basic concept of such a law seems reasonable enough. Proponents of this and similar measures are understandably concerned about measures that have been passed in other states that restrict the rights of farmers. For example, in 2008, California voters approved roomier living conditions for hens. And in Oregon this past May, a rural county overwhelmingly passed a ban on genetically modified crops.
Considering some of the current hysteria surrounding the use of GMOs, it’s not out of the question to think that laws similar to the one in Oregon might be considered in other counties and states.
Missouri, by the way, isn’t the first state to take such a step in the direction of “right to farm” legislation. Two years ago, North Dakota passed a similar amendment. North Dakota State University law professor David Saxowsky says he hasn’t seen any resulting court cases.
“Maybe sometime in the next decades there will be some technology that even producers will say, ‘Hey, wait, we really aren’t sure if we want that within our industry.’ And at that point, this language will be tested,” Saxowsky says.
Other states are looking at measures like the ones in Missouri and North Dakota. Indiana recently added right-to-farm legislation in the form of state law, and Oklahoma had legislation that didn’t quite make it out of the general assembly. Conversations about “right to farm” also are gathering steam in other Midwest states.
Why would anyone oppose right to farm?
In a strong agricultural state such as Missouri – with its nearly 100,000 farms – one would expect easy passage of a freedom to farm amendment, but that wasn’t the case. The measure passed, but by the slimmest of margins. So slim, in fact, that a recount might be in order.
The unofficial results showed that with all 3,898 precincts reporting, the amendment prevailed with only 50.1 percent of the votes – a difference of a mere 2,528 votes out of nearly 1 million votes that were cast.
Why would anyone, you might ask, oppose the right of an individual to farm? But in the “Show Me” state, the message became muddled, and what happened there might be a good lesson for those in other states contemplating a similar move.
Those supporting the amendment were portrayed as large corporate agricultural interests that were trying to avoid regulation relating to the environment and animal welfare while opponents of were painted as over-zealous environmentalists who wanted to destroy traditional farming. The debate pitted urban interests against rural ones, with the metropolitan areas of St. Louis and Kansas City largely opposing the amendment.
In other words, it was business as usual in American politics.
Whatever your view might be on such legislation, you might be seeing it soon in the Southeast. In states like Alabama and Georgia, “right to farm” would be a softball issue, and our esteemed legislators love softball issues – they hit ‘em out of the park every time.