Former lawmakers leading effort to oppose ‘Right to Farm’ amendment

Missourians should oppose the proposed “Right to Farm” amendment on the November ballot, because it takes away their freedoms while giving special protections to one industry, leaders of the new “Missouri’s Food For America” committee said Tuesday.

Lawmakers last year placed the amendment on this year’s ballot.

If adopted by voters, the amendment would add a new section to the Missouri Constitution’s Article 1, the Bill of Rights, saying: “That agriculture, which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”

But, former state Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, told a Capitol news conference the proposed amendment is “not about protecting the vast majority of great and good farmers that we have in this state.”

If passed, he said, the amendment “will take away people’s right to have a voice of redress in this state. Agriculture’s the largest industry in this state — no other industry in this state would enjoy that constitutional protection.”

Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst said, in a telephone interview, there are good reasons to protect the agriculture industry, “just because of both the economic impact of agriculture in our state and the historical significance of the industry — and we’re the only industry that’s being challenged on as many fronts.”

“We’ve operated in this state for well over two centuries without a blanket constitutional protection for us to farm,” Shoemyer said, calling the amendment “just an over-step by those folks who haven’t agreed with some of the issues that have been put on the ballot.”

Farm Bureau is one of more than 40 group agriculture, industry, legal and financial groups involved in the “Missouri Farmers Care” organization, which issued a news release questioning the legitimacy of Shoemyer’s new political action committee, arguing it “is little more than a front for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).”

That national organization was the main sponsor of a successful, statewide ballot measure several years ago, that tightened the requirements for “puppy mill” operations in the state. But, just months after voters approved that measure, lawmakers rewrote it after some ag groups complained the law, known as Proposition B, was unfair to the animal producers.

In Tuesday’s news release, Don Nikodim, chairman of Missouri Farmers Care and executive director of the Missouri Pork Producers Association, said of the HSUS: “They spend tens of millions each year attacking America’s farm families. ‘Missouri Food For America’ is simply another attempt by HSUS to deceive Missouri voters.”

Joe Maxwell, a former state senator and lieutenant governor, now is HSUS’ vice president for outreach.

He told the news conference that the Humane Society of the United States agrees with Shoemyer that the proposed amendment “is so vague and so broad … that it will trump legislation that would be adopted by the Legislature in the future, or by the citizens seeking the initiative petition.”

He predicted passage of the “Right to Farm” amendment would lead to other proposals to protect a variety of competing agriculture-related issues.

Maxwell, who is a lawyer, noted he and his brother “are traditional family farmers with a diversified agriculture” and that, even as an HSUS official, “I’m not working to put my brother and I out of business.”

Shoemyer said amendment supporters generally are more interested in protecting agriculture corporations than family farmers.

He lost his re-election bid to in 2010, and said he was happy with going back to his farm — until last year’s Legislature passed “a few things,” including the proposed amendment.

Now, he said: “I look forward to the next seven, eight, nine months of a pretty good tussle.”

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