ADVERTISEMENT

Neal Bredehoeft, an Alma, Mo., corn farmer, supports a measure going to Missouri voters next month to make farming a right.

T. Rob Brown • Associated Press,

'Right-to-farm' laws could have broad implications

  • Article by: David A. Lieb
  • Associated Press
  • July 10, 2014 - 7:46 PM

– In the nation’s agricultural heartland, farming is more than a multibillion-dollar industry that feeds the world. It could be on track to become a right, written into law alongside the freedom of speech and religion.

Some powerful agriculture interests want to declare farming a right at the state level as part of a wider campaign to fortify the industry against crusades by animal-welfare activists and opponents of genetically modified crops.

The emerging battle could have lasting repercussions for the nation’s food supply.

“A couple of years from now, we might say this was the beginning of the trend,” said Rusty Rumley, an attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center in Fayetteville, Ark. But “we really don’t even know what they’re going to mean.”

Animal advocates and other groups are trying to end what they consider cruel methods of raising livestock and unsafe ways of growing food.

Those efforts are fueling the right-to-farm movement. The right has already won approval in North Dakota and Indiana. It goes next to Missouri voters in an Aug. 5 election.

Missouri’s proposed constitutional amendment asks whether the right “to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed.” Indiana’s new measure protects the rights of farmers to use “ever-changing technology.” The North Dakota measure prohibits any law that “abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.”

Supporters hope the wording provides a legal shield against initiatives that would restrict particular farming methods, such as those setting minimum cage space for hens or policies that bar tight pens for pregnant pigs. Others hope to pre-empt proposals to ban genetically modified crops.

“Agriculture’s had a lot of folks … trying to come down on our farms and tell us what we can and cannot do,” said Neal Bredehoeft, a farmer who supports the Missouri measure. “This gives us a little bit of protection.”

Opponents fear the right-to-farm measures could be cited by corporate farms to escape unwanted regulations.

“This is a fight in each state,” said Joe Maxwell, a former Missouri lieutenant governor who is the Humane Society’s vice president of outreach and engagement. Stopping the proposals at the ballot box “sends a message: Don’t waste your money,” he added.

© 2014 Star Tribune