Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Missouri barely passes constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to farm

A "brief and vaguely worded" amendment to the Missouri Constitution guaranteeing a right to "engage in farming and ranching practices" won narrow voter approval on Tuesday.  With all 3,898 precincts reporting, the amendment passed with 50.1% of the vote.  Nearly a million votes were cast, and the difference between those for and against the amendment was just about 2500 votes.  North Dakota is the only state with a similar amendment.  Julie Bosman reports for the New York Times:
Supporters of the amendment said the measure was needed to preserve Missouri’s agricultural heritage, which some farmers believe is under attack from national groups like the Humane Society. The agricultural industry in Missouri, with its nearly 100,000 farms, has been rattled by the push in other states to pass measures regulating livestock conditions and genetically modified crops. 
Opponents said the amendment would benefit only large corporate agricultural interests that are trying to avoid regulation relating to the environment and animal welfare. The amendment had wide support in the Republican-controlled legislature.
The vote is eligible for a recount because it was decided by less than one-half of one percent of votes cast.  Missouri is, according to Bosman, a leading agricultural state with 100,000 farms producing crops like wheat, corn and soybeans.  

Read full New York Times coverage here.  The Times also ran this story by Bosman a few days before the vote.  It included this information about farming regulations in other states.
Backers of the amendment are wary of laws that have passed in other states, like California, where voters in 2008 approved roomier living conditions for hens, and Oregon, where a rural county’s ban on genetically modified crops was overwhelmingly passed in May.
Bosman quotes Prof. Erin Morrow Hawley of the University of Missouri Law School: 
There is a lot of uncertainty with respect to how the amendment would actually work in practice. You could see a state law challenged based on this constitutional amendment. But the biggest aim is to prevent new state laws coming in from outside the state. The idea is to create another legal tool to stop that.
This earlier story by Bosman also featured some colorful quotes from colorful farmers, including this one.
“I personally don’t know anybody that’s against this,” said Richard Le Jeune, who raises 200 cattle on his 573-acre property in the tiny hamlet of Halfway, Mo., 30 miles north of Springfield. “Some of these city people don’t have a clue what goes on in the country and how food is produced. We need this to keep the outsiders from trying to run things.”
Another farmer, Darvin Bentlage of Golden City, took a different view, stating that proponents of the amendment "don’t know what kind of can of worms is going to open up.”  He continued:
One thing’s for sure — it’s going to put ag culture above everybody else. We’re going to be a different class of people. You won’t be able to complain about anything that we do. That should never be the case.
Missouri voters also passed on Tuesday a constitutional amendment expanding gun rights, which calls for the right to keep and bear arms to be “unalienable.”

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