COLUMBIA – State Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, believes animal rights groups pose a threat to traditional Missouri values, and he hopes to do something about it.
Smith has filed a proposed resolution that, if passed, would put a constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot that would enshrine farmers', hunters', and fishermen's rights in the Missouri Constitution. The resolution has 33 co-sponsors, including House Speaker Tim Jones.
"I want to provide certainty to people in agriculture that outside groups can't come in and try to destroy their way of life," Smith said.
Specifically, the amendment would make it unconstitutional to pass laws that would abridge farmers' and ranchers' rights to use "agricultural technology and modern livestock production and ranching techniques," and any law, rule or regulation that would "unreasonably restrict hunting, fishing, and harvesting wildlife or the use of traditional devices or methods."
Rep. Kenneth Wilson, R-Smithville, who is a co-sponsor, said Missouri farmers' and hunters' rights aren't being threatened now but that it's necessary to prevent their rights from being taken away in the future.
"You can't protect those rights after they're gone," he said.
The Missouri Farm Bureau supports the resolution, and it will have representatives testify during committee hearings, said Leslie Holloway, the bureau's director of state and local governmental affairs. She agreed with Smith's position that there are groups that would restrict Missourians' rights to farm and hunt, and that the constitution should protect those rights.
"There are some groups out there that would like to eliminate hunting, fishing – would like to restrict agriculture's practices in a variety of ways," she said. She mentioned three organizations that pose a threat: the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States.
Although the Humane Society of the United States has not yet taken an official position on the resolution, it has made statements in opposition.
"We view these efforts as inconsequential and merely window dressing for the hunting lobby," the group said in an email statement to the Missourian. The statement did not reference any specific parts of the bill relating to farmers and ranchers.
Joe Maxwell, vice president for outreach and engagement for the Humane Society of the United States, said he hopes people will question the motivations behind the bill.
"I believe (this amendment) is designed to motivate and charge a segment of our citizens by falsely stating the threat that is against these things," he said.
"So I would like to ask, what is the threat?" he added
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, meanwhile, believes the resolution is a desperate attempt in reaction to an increased awareness among U.S. consumers of cruelty to animals, said Ashley Byrne, a campaign specialist for the group.
North Dakota voters passed a similar constitutional amendment in November, making that the first state to enshrine the right to farm in its constitution. The North Dakota amendment did not apply to hunting and fishing.
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