JEFFERSON CITY — Opponents of a Right to Farm amendment on the Aug. 5 ballot voiced their grievances Thursday afternoon during a rally at the state Capitol.
Speakers at the rally argued that the amendment would not help farmers but would instead grant blanket protection to corporate farms. They insisted that if approved, the measure would take control away from local governments.
A crowd of roughly 50 carried signs with slogans, such as "right to farm is right to harm." They included local farmers, small business owners, politicians and representatives from the Sierra Club, Missouri Farmers Union, Cultivate KC and the Missouri Association of Social Welfare.
"We're concerned about family farms and people producing what we call 'real food' here in Missouri, like produce, meats and small artisan cheesemakers. This amendment would have a big impact on their ability to do what they do, " said Jake Davis, who owns the Root Cellar, a downtown Columbia market with organic and local produce.
The issue is whether to add a provision to the Missouri Constitution that would "forever guarantee" the right to engage in farming and ranching practices.
Missouri already has right-to-farm laws in place that protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance complaints related to the practices of farming, and the proposed amendment would strengthen the current statute with state constitutional power.
Much of the debate over Amendment 1 has centered on whether it will benefit family farms or large agribusinesses in Missouri.
Supporters of the measure, such as U.S. Reps. Vicky Hartzler, Blaine Luetkemeyer, Billy Long, Jason Smith, Sam Graves and Emanuel Cleaver, say it will protect farm operations from threats by animal activist groups and unnecessary regulation.
Opponents say it will favor the special interests of corporate farms and ranches by diminishing the power of local governments to regulate them. They say the amendment is unnecessary because of the existing right-to-farm statutes in Missouri.
Wes Shoemyer, a former state senator and the treasurer of Missouri's Food for America, said 99.5 percent of Missouri farmers are already protected and the remaining corporate farms don't need the same kind of security.
Former Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, who has been traveling across Missouri to campaign against the amendment, agreed with Shoemyer.
"Every third-class county or non-first-class county without a charter form of government will lose their local control (of farms) under this provision," he said.
A third-class county has an assessed value below $600 million, according to the Missouri Association of Counties. That includes 89 of Missouri's 114 counties.
Shoemyer also said the amendment would need to be interpreted by the courts.
"It's a very vague, constitutional amendment that will crowd the courts," he said. "The only ones that come out good on this are attorneys."
It is a fallacy that a right-to-farm amendment would make food cheaper, Davis said.
He said a high-density, animal-feeding operation could buy and develop land near local farmers and avoid local regulation.
Davis added that the amendment could hinder efforts to force food producers to label genetically modified produce.
"It's frustrating because people in favor (of Amendment 1) say it's about choice and cheap food, yet they are opposed to any GMO labeling," he said.
"That seems like a contradiction to me. If they care about choice, they should care about letting everybody know what goes into their food and letting them choose one way or the other which they prefer to buy."
Shoemyer said the same people who claim to be in favor of protecting local farms were also the ones who approved the sale of Smithfield Foods to a Chinese group in September.
"Food is an important issue in this country," he said. "He who controls the food controls the people."
Supervising editor is Jeanne Abbott.