House committee approves bill to protect modern agricultural practices

Tuesday, February 12, 2013 | 6:38 p.m. CST; updated 9:52 a.m. CST, Friday, February 15, 2013

JEFFERSON CITY – A resolution that seeks to enshrine modern farming and livestock production as fundamental rights in the Missouri Constitution won the unanimous approval of a House committee Tuesday.

If passed by the General Assembly, the resolution would go to Missouri voters on the November 2014 ballot. The version passed by the committee combined two separate resolutions, one relating to farming and the other relating to livestock production, sponsored by Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, and Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, respectively.

The resolution would ensure that no law could be enacted in Missouri that would abridge "the right of farmers and ranchers to employ modern farming technology and modern livestock production and ranching practices."

Reiboldt emphasized the importance of farming to Missouri's economy.

"As we all know, agriculture in Missouri is the No. 1 industry," he said. "It is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy."

Smith told the committee that the resolutions would protect food sources for consumers, ensuring Missourians do not have to rely on foreign sources. 

"We need to make sure that people are willing and able to invest in our state with complete certainty that the laws in Missouri are not going to over-regulate them," Smith said.

Farmer and former state Rep. Tom Loehner sponsored similar legislation multiple times during his tenure in the House. He testified at the committee for informational purposes, though he said he favors the bill. Speaking after the hearing, Loehner said the threat to Missouri agriculture comes from groups such as the Humane Society of the United States.

As an example, he cited the organization's alleged position that animals should be anesthetized before being castrated.

"If you're gonna have to give a painkiller to every pig you castrate, it's economically unfeasible," Loehner said, explaining that he can castrate a hundred hogs in an hour, while that would take about 10 to 12 hours if he administered painkillers to each one.

About 10 witnesses testified in favor of the bill, including representatives of the Missouri Family Network, the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, the Missouri Poultry Federation and the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Fewer than five spoke against the bill. Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, was among them. He said language in the legislation is vague.

"We don't really know what the language refers to," Baker said in reference to the terms "agricultural technology" and "modern livestock production practices."

The bill has been referred to the House Rules Committee. 

North Dakota voters passed a similar constitutional amendment in November, making that the first state to declare the right to farm in its constitution.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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