COLUMBIA — There are a number of reasons I cannot support the 2014 Constitutional Amendment 1 in August.
Allow me to begin with the language in the proposed ballot question. “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”
“Shall not be infringed” could mean that anything goes and for big agribusiness that could lead to excessive pollution, the mistreatment of animals, lower competition and eventually higher costs at the market.
If approved, the amendment to our constitution would read:
"Section 35. That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri's economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri."
Article VI speaks only to local government, not the state or federal arms of regulatory protection we have today.
I am opposed to most amendments to our already bloated state constitution. We do not need yet another amendment that has nothing to do with the business of the state. Our state constitution needs to be depleted of amendments that have little or nothing to do about the operation of state government.
This bill only appears to be “family-farm friendly.” I am not the only one who thinks like this. Richard R. Oswald, president of the Missouri Farmers Union, had similar sentiments in his Feb. 3, 2014 Op/Ed piece in the St. Louis Post Dispatch. In fact, he went one step further by suggesting that the most farm-related bills put forth by our legislators are causing havoc to the family-owned operations.
He wrote, “Family farms are not far from extinction as rural populations fall. Many of us who remain, even large farms, can claim family traditions. But the fact is that farm bill mischief and politics have hastened our demise.”
Oswald added: " ... Its vague wording is bound to favor corporations, even Chinese corporations, over Missouri family farms."
The idea that multinationals companies, who have added their money in support of this proposed amendment, can do as they please without federal or state oversight, without safety inspections of indications as to where the produce, be it beef or strawberries, originated is repugnant.
Many of us go to the farmer’s markets in town simply because we know where the product was grown. If the multinationals believe that such labeling would be an infringement to their business, the family farmers in Missouri will suffer.
Former state Sen. Wes Shoemyer also believes the amendment is wrong for Missouri farmers and consumers. He told the Quincy (Illinois) Journal, "Whenever we see this type of constitutional amendment, it will actually take away folks' right for redress if there are some very egregious nuisance of environmental issues that might arise in the future."
Another reason to oppose this proposed amendment is that of food safety. The consumer will suffer from the loss of product knowledge and safe-food labeling. Federal food inspections could be considered an “infringement,” as might local land use ordinances regardless of the language in the proposed amendment.
This alone should strike a note of concern for consumers. The overcrowding of livestock, inhumane treatment of poultry, the killing of sick or otherwise unhealthy animals for human consumption … are potential dangers.
The fifth problem is a simple one. The proposed amendment does not define what agricultural production is and is not. Does this include the city slicker who is raising a few chickens in his backyard for fresh eggs?
If it does, would the amendment void the ordinances Columbia has on its books concerning the raising of poultry within city limits? Could this lead to a few dozen or hundreds of birds being raised behind someone’s home? Or goats?
Even food recalls could be considered an infringement on the business of agriculture. It puts Missouri citizens in harm’s way, takes away our knowledge of product origins and additives, can lead to the unethical treatment of animals and could put the small-family farmer out of business in favor of the multinational agri-conglomerates.
For these reasons, this amendment must be voted down.
David Rosman is an editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in communications, ethics, business and politics. You can read more of his commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com and New York Journal of Books.com.