Our Opinion: Right to Farm amendment lacks substance

News Tribune editorial

After thousands of years of working the land and tending the livestock, do we really need a constitutional right to farm?

Proponents, including majority Republicans in the Legislature, believe so. They are encouraging voters in the Aug. 5 primary to elevate farming to a constitutional right in Missouri.

We’re not anthropologists, but we’re pretty sure people have been farming — harvesting fruit, growing vegetables and raising livestock — for a long time.

What has changed, according to proponents’ literature, is farming has become “vulnerable to attacks from well-funded, outside groups that push information on the public to pass burdensome and expensive regulations.”

If you see the ghost of Proposition B in those words, your eyesight is excellent. Proposition B, our readers will recall, is the animal welfare law approved by voters in 2010 but then changed dramatically by lawmakers.

Opponents of the amendment contend supporters’ protective zeal has morphed into paranoia.

Although proponents’ literature doesn’t specify, the August amendment is a virtual “No Trespassing” sign aimed at pesky groups concerned with animal welfare, genetically modified food, use of antibiotics in livestock, etc.

Whether you support or oppose these groups is not at issue here. Free speech, including theirs, is enshrined the the U.S. Constitution.

Opponents also consider the ballot language vague. It reads: “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?”

The undefined “production” and “practices” are an invitation to sue, which essentially will move the debate from the legislative arena, where it belongs, to the judiciary.

Cynical observers also view the Right to Farm amendment as a political maneuver designed to attract more die-hard conservatives to the ballot box.

Lending credibility to that speculation is Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s decision to place the issue before voters in August, rather than November. The earlier date not only abbreviates a campaign, it avoids the general election, when turnout traditionally is higher.

“Many a true word hath been spoken in jest,” William Shakespeare wrote in his tragedy, “King Lear.”

Many true words also have been spoken by cynics.

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