NOBULL: Corporations Promote ‘Right to Farm’ — would prevent any rules regulating large industrial agricult ural businesses

Progressive Populist / By Margot Ford McMillen

Look Out: Corporations Promote ‘Right to Farm’

If these resolutions passed, citizens would be asked to vote this dangerous language into our state constitution.

Photo Credit: Andrey Burmakin

May 9, 2013

Every year for the last six or eight, family farmers and small-town residents in Missouri have had to fight off legislations designed to take away our local control and put all the lawmaking privileges in the hands of state lawmakers. Taken to the extreme, this would mean that county, city and township ordinances and laws would be void. No more city zoning, no health ordinances guaranteeing special treatment such as special regulations against noise, air pollution, water pollution and so forth, for county residents that demanded it.

The beneficiaries of these laws would be corporate do-badders who want to export costs like cleanups or health care for employees. Without regulations, they could get taxpayers to pay for pollution and social justice atrocities. It would be business as usual for them, only better!

This year, we have been dealing with bills introduced simultaneously in the Missouri House of Representatives and Senate to ensure “modern farming practices” forever. The resolutions on the House side said, “No state law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices, unless enacted by the General Assembly.”

Never mind that “agricultural technology,” “modern livestock production,” “ranching practices” are not defined. And never mind that they would seem to suggest methods of production like Confined Animal Feeding Operations and genetically altered crops. If these resolutions passed, citizens would be asked to vote this dangerous language into our state constitution. Where it would reside forever.

As I write this, just a few days after tax day, it looks like we’ve beaten back this particular monster. It is possible, of course, that all we’ve done is cut off one head to reveal two or three more, but the citizens have been calling lawmakers, pointing out the errors of the bills, and gaining support as the session moves forward.

But here’s the larger question: Where the heck did this idea of changing the constitution come from? We know who it benefits — the industrial agriculture system — and we know who it hurts — ordinary citizens. But who wrote this bill, now called “right to farm,” and who financed the possibility that it would get traction?

Thanks to the magic of Google, I quickly found three states with efforts for constitutional amendments similar to Missouri’s proposals. Another few keystrokes and I found the source of the language. It came from ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. And on the ALEC website, a few more clicks took me to the list of legislative members from Missouri.

In November 2012, North Dakota, a state besieged with fracking (and, yes, ALEC has policies and sample legislation favoring that subject also) passed a “right to farm” amendment into the constitution. Its language is eerily like the proposal in Missouri: The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.

While you might think this guarantees farmers against the frackers, please note the seriously vague and troubling words “modern,” “technology,” and the confusing phrase “no law shall be enacted …” So, in North Dakota, no county, township, parish, city or any governmental body will be able to pass a law or ordinance to protect themselves from chemicals, GMOs, CAFOs or any other kind of industrial farming scheme.

Not only will farmers be affected. This amendment can have serious repercussions for consumers: North Dakota, one of our chief wheat-raising states, will not be able to refuse to plant untested (and untrusted) GMO wheat under this Constitutional clause.

The same sort of language is being considered in Montana, another primary wheat-raising state, and in Indiana, one of the buckles on the corn belt. The Hoosier experience, summed up by Indiana’s, sounds just like Missouri. They say:

“House Joint Resolution 5 and Senate Joint Resolution 27, identical pieces of legislation making their way through the two chambers, seek to amend the Indiana Constitution to prevent any legislative body from adopting any rules regulating farming …

“The amendment, apparently, would prevent any rules regulating large industrial agricultural businesses such as confined animal feeding operations. It would also prevent any laws that protect public health and private property rights for Hoosiers who are not farmers. Even zoning laws could be challenged.”

These dangerous laws could spell the end of rural life and the endorsement of fields farmed with robot tractors, sprayed by drones carrying Agent Orange and growing untested GMO crops with serious health consequences.

State by state, beginning in Indiana this fall, voters will confront this amendment and industry will spend the big bucks to get it passed. Find out if it’s active in your state, and who supports it.

Then call your friends and neighbors and work to defeat it.