Agriculture is Missouri's top industry - and some of its supporters think it's being attacked by unfriendly forces around the country.
"We feel like it's very important that we have a constitutional amendment" to protect agriculture, Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, told the state Senate's Agriculture, Food Production and Outdoor Resources Committee.
"This bill is to protect agriculture - all segments of agriculture and farming."
Several people reminded the committee Wednesday that 98 percent of Missouri's farms are family farms, not corporate-owned operations.
State Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, also has proposed the amendment.
"Unfortunately, we're at a point in the agriculture arena where we have our backs against the wall - and it's come the time when we've got to protect that industry," he said.
The amendment would be added to Article 1, the Missouri Constitution's Bill of Rights.
Its language includes: "No state law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern and traditional livestock production and ranching practices, unless enacted by the General Assembly."
If voters statewide approve the amendment, that last phrase means the separate constitutional right of initiative petition would be prohibited if it affected agriculture, and that bothered several opponents.
James Harris, lobbying for the Adam Smith Foundation, argued the proposed amendment is "taking away, restricting a constitutional right." He wondered what other rights might be targeted in the future, if the precedent were set with the agriculture amendment.
Bob Baker of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation added: "We certainly endorse the right to farm, but we do believe the agriculture industry should abide by local and state laws - even those passed by ballot initiative, just like any other industry."
Baker noted Missouri's anti-cockfighting law was passed by voters, after lawmakers failed to act.
And the passage of the controversial Proposition B several years ago forced lawmakers to compromise on the standards of care for dogs in commercial breeding establishments, he said.
"It's our opinion," said Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, "that farming and ranching are under attack throughout the United States, by the Humane Society of the United States and their allies. Today, a growing number of people are promoting agendas that have more to do with raising money than producing food.
"Make no mistake - food security is something that we cannot take for granted," concluded the Atchison County farmer.
Other supporters included Jim McCann, Missouri Cattleman's president-elect, who said the amendment would protect "the ability that we are feeding the world today, with 1949 herd numbers. There are a lot more mouths to feed out there than there were in 1949 (and) we accomplished this with modern technology ... staying on top of whatever will help you produce a better product and more of it, for less dollars."
Livingston County Presiding Commissioner Eva Danner Horton of Chillicothe noted farming is big business in northern Missouri.
"We do fear that the possible side-effect of this resolution could be that it would take away the opportunity for us to have that local control and our ability to enforce the health ordinance" that places some controls on farming operations that neighbors deem to be a nuisance, she said.
Both sponsors told the committee their language should protect county officials' ability to keep local control.
Tim Gibbons of the Missouri Rural Crisis Center said the bills' language "is entirely too vague for a constitutional amendment (and) could have unintended consequences."
But Don Nikodim of the Missouri Pork Producers said people who oppose the amendments "are for higher-priced food, less food availability and more hungry people. That's the two choices we have to make.
"I think this bill puts us on track to protect agriculture and help us move forward."