Missouri farm rights under debate as voters consider Amendment One

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MARYLAND HEIGHTS, MO (KTVI) - Missouri farmers are lining up on both sides of the so-called “Right to Farm” amendment to the state constitution. Critics warn it will handcuff lawmakers and citizens from approving future laws covering agriculture. Supporters deny that but insist they need protection to be sure those laws don’t infringe on their chosen farming practices.

“My fear as a young producer is that animal rights groups will limit the number of cattle that I can purchase,” said Amendment One advocate Matt Hardecke, a cattle rancher from Steelville. Hardecke said the effort several years ago to restrict the number of breeding dogs a farmer could own helped to fuel support for this new, proposed amendment.

Hardecke said in order to invest in family farms, owners need assurances new, expensive regulations won’t be imposed that will cause them to lose their investment. He pointed to out-of- state campaign funding from the Humane Society of the United States as evidence national animal rights groups are trying to influence Missouri voters.

Other supporters fear critics of genetically modified seed will try to restrict their long time farming practices.

Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, opposes Amendment One. He warns supporters really want to eliminate current regulations established by some counties to regulate CAFOs ( confined animal feeding operations) to protect the animals and the environment.

“My concern is when this passes, Smithfield Foods and some other large agriculture industries are going to come in and sue to overthrow these regulations and these small counties won’t have the resources to fight these legal battles,” Baker explained.

Amendment One reads: “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.”

Large counties with populations of 85,000 or more can continue to pass local legislation controlling some agricultural practices under Article VI of the state constitution.

He also thinks dog breeders eager to make quick money will go to court to weaken the current state law governing commercial dog raising.

Baker predicts if voters approve Amendment One there will be many court battles over what it means. “Even the proponents have no idea what it is going to do? It’s going to be up to the courts. I think this is really a folly,” he added.

Some political commercials warn Chinese investors are trying to buy Missouri farm land. Hardecke says a current state law limits foreign ownership of Missouri to one percent of state land. The Smithton pork feeding operation was recently purchased by a Chinese company.

The political debate over Amendment One does not follow party lines. Democratic Governor Jay Nixon has indicated he thinks it is unnecessary. But Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster who plans to run for governor in 2016 is backing it.

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