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Right to Farm

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If Missouri farmers need protection to carry out their traditions and use their land as they wish they don’t need it from constitutional Amendment 1 on the ballot in the Aug. 5 primary election.

The so-called “Right to Farm” amendment’s vague language doesn’t tell us who is protected, or from what. If the amendment is passed, that question could occupy the courts in the form of expensive lawsuits for years.

Impetus for the amendment, according to its sponsors and the people and organizations who trust them, comes from the fear some animal rights organizations such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) will find ways to control how we use our land and raise our livestock. That doesn’t worry me.

The HSUS had public support for its fight to severely regulate so-called puppy mills in Missouri. Ultimately it lost its fight. What success the HSUS found it that crusade was because of its nature: it dealt with “companion animals”--cute puppies and their worn-out mothers--, not livestock. The idea that Missourians in general will tinker with the production of their food is unthinkable. Unlike puppies, cattle, hogs, sheep, chickens and goats are not companion animals; not pets. They are livestock. The Legislature has said so.

The most powerful opponents of the amendment are family farmers and consumers, not the HSUS. They point to Monsanto, a backer of the amendment, as an example of why family farmers and consumers need protection the amendment may not provide. They also point to companies that own factory farms.

Aspects of the operations of Amendment 1 backer Monsanto may deserve opposition. There is much discussion about what amounts to patented seed manufactured and processed by Monsanto, by the GMOs (genetically modified organisms) it produces that we find on the shelves of our grocery stores and insecticide it makes.

It makes sense that foods that are genetically modified, or grown from modified seeds, should be labeled so people who don’t want them can avoid them. Monsanto is among companies fighting mandatory labeling.

Rumors of farmers being sued for using Monsanto’s patented seed that has blown onto their property and suicides by farmers in India in connection with Monsanto’s operations--often cited by Monsanto’s detractors--have been dismissed by many as unproven.

What cannot be dismissed is the fear that purchasers of Monsanto seed must sign a contract dictating how it can be used. A license to use seed as we wish? Freedom to farm?

I am not as concerned about Amendment 1 protecting Monsanto’s practices as I am about it allowing corporate farming companies free rein to operate as they wish.

For example, I don’t want wake up one morning to find a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation) upstream or uphill from my farm.

CAFOs aren’t good neighbors to family farmers.

One example of corporate farming is Smithfield Foods, Inc. which was sold to the Chinese company Shuanghui last year.

Even before it was sold it was a menace to family farmers and not just because they can’t compete with it successfully. It is huge. It owns companies that produce foods we know from our supermarkets. There are too many to list.

Smithfield raises 15 million pigs on its own. It processes 27 million total, producing 6 billion pounds of pork per year.

In 1997, Smithfield was fined $12.6 million by the Environmental Protection Agency for 6,900 violations of clean water regulations. As an example, its slaughterhouses dumped huge amounts of waste into a river, polluting it. The damage to the river itself and area water supplies was immense. The company didn’t do enough to guard against such a spill.

In 1999, Smithfield settled with North Carolina after it failed to contain water after Hurricane Floyd flooded its lagoons. It agreed to pay $50 million over 25 years as a fine and $1.3 million to clean up its mess.

I don’t want Smithfield, or any other mega-corporations, especially those owned by the Chinese, from building a factory farm next to mine. I don’t want hog waste flowing from my shower heads and kitchen faucets.

And remember, Smithfield is but one of many industrial farmers. There are an estimated 500 large hog operations in the river valley Smithfield polluted alone.

I also don’t want Roundup or some other herbicide or insecticide sprayed over my home and farm by air.

How could these things happen? Amendment 1 protects the farming practices of corporate farmers absolutely.

All farming and ranching practices are guaranteed forever? The right to build factory farms--including those with thousands of hogs confined next to family farms? Spraying poison over our homes and farms that can also drift over towns? Protected absolutely and forever? Do we want that?

Factory farms could flaunt present regulations concerning the air we breathe and the water we drink. The amendment seems to clear the way to do legally what they already do illegally.

No thanks. If Missouri citizens, especially small farmers, need more protection in general to farm than we already have in existing laws, it should be more than a vague, open-ended right.

The last part of the ballot language is meant to be taken as a comfort to those of us who don’t like big government. It makes the amendment “subject to any power given to local government under Article VI of the Missouri Constitution.” That is meaningless.

Article VI deals with county government. Howell County has no power from the Legislature that deals with such an amendment. It doesn’t even have a constitution. County governments in general haven’t had anything to do with or about agriculture since county governments ended open ranges.

That provision is an empty one.

The Legislature has already given us laws protecting farming. If we need stronger ones the Legislature should provide them.

If we need an amendment to protect farming, give us one that doesn’t take away the rights of Missouri citizens, especially family farmers, to protect themselves from corporate farmers and makers of farm products.

Protect yourself from the vague provisions of Amendment 1. Vote No.

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