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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Right to Farm is a waste of time

Monday, June 16, 2014 | 12:54 p.m. CDT; updated 6:17 p.m. CDT, Monday, June 16, 2014

Back in 2010, when the Humane Society of the United States targeted Missouri for being the nation’s puppy mill capital, one of the key defenders of an industry known for stacking dogs in filthy and inhumane cages defended the practice like this:

“I am an American; I have a right to raise dogs,” Joe Overlease, president of the Professional Kennel Club of Missouri, told The New York Times.

Mr. Overlease’s shelter had previously been cited by the state for violating overcrowding standards. “I have a right to bark at the moon if I want.”

Barking at the moon is an apt description of how parts of the state’s agriculture community responded to puppy mill reforms created by the passage of Proposition B in 2010.

This August, Missourians will vote on what’s being called the “Right to Farm” constitutional amendment. It is the fearful farm faction’s overreaction to the puppy mill reforms.

They’re barking at the moon. Because it’s their right. But the rest of the state shouldn’t bark with them.

The premise behind Amendment 1 is that farming in Missouri is under attack. The evidence is dubious, but since when did a lack of evidence stop the Missouri legislature?

When voters passed Proposition B, for instance, pro-puppy mill lawmakers immediately thumbed their noses at voters and declined to enact the reforms approved by voters.

In the end, with help from Gov. Jay Nixon, a compromise was passed that at least fulfilled some of the spirit of the proposition. Unlicensed puppy mills were targeted and stiffer regulations were enacted.

If farming is under attack, you’d think farm values would be down. But the most recent survey from MU Extension shows that farmland values are up throughout Missouri. The Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City reported similar gains. The price for irrigated cropland, for instance, was up 25 percent from the previous year.

Amendment 1 is a solution looking for a problem, and it’s not even clear what the solution would do.

Charles Kruse, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, believes the proposal will give farmers some extra legal protection in an era that has seen some corporate farm practices come under attack. Voters in California, for instance, passed an amendment to bring more humane practices to the poultry industry.

If he’s right, that may be the best reason to vote against the amendment. The last thing Missouri needs to do is give more protection to an industry that already gets almost anything it wants out of the Missouri legislature and Congress.

Keep in mind, as much as people like Mr. Kruse like to talk about the small family farmer trying to protect his way of living, this is a battle funded by large corporate food interests.

It is the Tysons and Smithfields, the industrial poultry and pork producers, who more than any other element of the food chain decide what Americans pay for food.

Changing the state constitution to give extra protection to an industry that has had its way in Missouri since the founding of the state shuts consumers out completely.

Some observers, like state Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, believe the amendment really does nothing. They argue that it was watered down enough in the legislative process that in the end all it does is reinforce that Missourians care about farms.

Mr. Kruse, in a meeting with the Post-Dispatch editorial board, suggests that conversations about farming, like the one we had, are the goal.

OK, fine. Let’s talk about farming. Let’s break down some of the traditional barriers between rural and urban Missouri. But let’s not change the constitution to do that. It’s unnecessary.

Passing an amendment that likely does nothing, but might possibly provide large corporations extra protections against consumer interests, is very bad public policy.

Farming is, always has been, and likely always will be an important part of life in Missouri. Even some of our largest urban corporations, the Monsantos and Pfizers and Purinas and Anheuser-Busches, have a direct connection to the farm.

That’s not going to change, and no occasional concern over inhumane treatment of animals will ever, as Mr. Kruse suggested in 2010, “eliminate the livestock industry.”

Vote No on Amendment 1. Let Mr. Kruse and his pals howl at the moon all they want. But don’t enshrine moon-howling in the Missouri Constitution.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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