An initiative is on the ballot in Missouri giving corporate farms the “right” to freely expand their industrial operations across Missouri without regard for people, communities and the environment. MC
By JOHN IKERD
I grew up on a dairy farm and currently live in a small town in a farming area. I have spent my 50-year professional career working in agriculture, mostly with farmers and people in rural communities. I think farmers have the same “right to farm” as other Americans have to pursue any other professional occupation. However, I don’t think real farmers deserve, need or even want special constitutional privileges. My top 10 reasons for opposing “right-to-farm amendments” to constitutions are as follows:
10. Agricultural producers already benefit from special right-to-farm “legislation” in all major agricultural states. These laws protect farmers from frivolous nuisance suits brought by uninformed or intolerant neighbors who have moved into traditional farming communities.
9. People who have the greatest concern for the future of family farms and rural communities are opposing right-to-farm amendments. Agriculture should not be exempt from public accountability for its actions. National organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Sierra Club, and rural opponents agree on this principle.
8. Right-to-farm amendments are but the latest and boldest tactics of corporate, industrial agriculture to protect itself from growing public concerns about the overall integrity of the American food system. Previous tactics include right-to-farm laws of the 1970s and 1980s, "veggie libel laws" of the 1990s and "ag gag laws" of the 2000s.
7. No economic justification exists for exempting industrial agriculture from the environmental and public health regulations under which similar industries operate. Industrial agriculture has not reduced retail prices of meat, milk or eggs in the past 20 years, and about 30 percent of U.S. production is now diverted to exports, keeping food prices high for Americans. It has driven independent producers off their farms and destroyed the economies of rural communities.
6. The primary beneficiary of right-to-farm amendments will be large, corporately controlled, industrial operations. The corporations’ commitment is to their stockholders, not to consumers, farmers or rural communities. They will not provide food for the 20-plus percent of American children who live in “food-insecure” homes or the hungry people of developing countries, many of whom have been driven from their subsistence farms by agricultural industrialization.
5. Any other economic benefits of right-to-farm amendments will be reflected in increased consumption of animal products among affluent consumers in developing countries, such as China and Korea, while Americans face increased food safety, environmental and public health risks associated with expansion of corporate, industrial agriculture. They get the benefits; we keep the chemical and biological wastes.
4. Foreign corporations — including the largest pork, beef and poultry processors in the U.S. — would be given special constitutional rights, including special exemptions from Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and legitimate nuisance lawsuits — rights that ordinary American citizens do not have.
3. Enshrining farmers’ constitutional rights to use popular production technologies, such as genetically modified organisms (GMO) and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), would preclude future regulations, even if regulations were later deemed necessary to protect public health. This would be like having granted tobacco companies and smokers the constitutional rights to forever continue their practices of the 1970s.
2. There are better alternatives for the future than industrial agriculture, for Americans and for the world. An emerging sustainable agriculture, including organically grown crops and humanely raised livestock and poultry, will be capable of providing enough healthful food at affordable costs to meet the food needs of Americans and of “feeding the world” without industrial technologies that pollute the environment and degrade society.
1. Right-to-farm amendments would deny people their inherent human rights of self-determination and self-defense. People have an inherent right to defend themselves whenever they have legitimate reason to believe their safety, health or essential well-being is threatened. Constitutions were never intended to give special rights to any particular group of people, but instead to ensure that no particular people, including farmers, are able to deny the inherent rights of others.
John Ikerd is professor emeritus of agricultural and applied economics at the University of Missouri.