Proponents of Amendment 1 — the Right to Farm Act — have not made their case.
We've met with advocates of this amendment to the Missouri constitution and listened to their arguments, but we don't believe they have adequately answered the central question: Who is it protecting, and from what?
We understand that many small farms are struggling, but threats to their livelihood aren't going to go away because of the vague wording in the proposed amendment. In fact, this amendment could hurt them.
Darvin Bentlage, a Barton County farmer, made a compelling case in this newspaper (Joplin Globe) that what's threatening small, independent family farms is big ag — corporate ag — which is what some critics think this amendment is designed to protect.
"I remember our right to farm when we didn't have to sign a grower's contract to buy seed, a document telling us what we could and couldn't do with what we grew on our farm," Bentlage argued.
"I remember when family farmers could load their own feeder pigs in their truck and go to the local auction and sell their livestock in an open and competitive market. So who's taken this right to farm away from us? It is the same corporate factory farm supporters, corporations and organizations that have pushed this constitutional amendment through the Missouri Legislature."
The ballot question asks, "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranging practices shall not be infringed?"
Infringed by whom? What practices? And who qualifies as a farmer in Missouri?
Smithfield Foods, for example, owner of Premium Standard Farms? How about Tyson Foods? Both of those are Fortune 500 companies that count their revenue in the billions.
Which Tyson practice "shall not be infringed," the one that left more than 100,000 dead fish in Clear Creek this spring?
It's Missouri that may need protection from big ag.
Proponents of the amendment point to environmental and animal rights organizations — "radical, out-of-state groups," they call them — but most of the family farmers we know don't fear laws aimed at protecting Missouri's water and air.
They already behave as good stewards of the environment because they live on the land they farm and drink the water from their own wells, and they treat their livestock humanely.
We suspect critics of the amendment are on to something when they say this is a measure designed to protect corporate agriculture rather than the traditional family farm.
In fact, we'd be better off making sure that public ownership of water, for example, and the right to clean water and clean air are enshrined in the state constitution.
That's an amendment we can get behind, but we can't get behind Amendment 1.
Copyright Joplin Globe. Reprinted with permission.