All states have some kind of “right to farm” legislation but only two have amended their constitutions to include this kind of language. The first was North Dakota. The latest is Missouri where, two weeks ago, about a third of registered voters turned out to approve the amendment by a slight margin of just 50.13% of the vote. The low turnout combined with the narrow margin indicates that there may be a lot more debate about this amendment and others like it in the future.
What is “Right to Farm?”
A 2004 Congressional Research Service (CRS) report defines right to farm laws as denying “nuisance suits against farmers who use accepted and standard farming practices, even if these practices harm or bother adjacent property owners or the general public. Agricultural nuisances may include noise, odors, visual clutter and dangerous structures.” They typically cite the importance of agriculture and its products to the state and its citizens, and some point to the need for this kind of legal protection because of non-agricultural land use moving into traditionally agricultural areas.
Missouri already had this kind of legislation in place. But in 2010, Proposition B was passed in the state with the support of the Humane Society of the United States. This proposition covered so-called “puppy mills” requiring owners of 10 dogs or more to meet certain requirements, and limiting owners to no more than 50 breeding dogs. Some saw this as undue influence on the state by “outsiders,” and raised concerns among some that farmers and ranchers might be the next target. They pointed to seven laws passed in other states restricting the use of veal calf stalls and gestation stalls for housing sows as evidence that their fears were well placed.
Why Not Have an Amendment?
While supporters said that the amendment would save jobs, provide protection from out-of-state animal-rights groups and “protect small and family farmers as they do not have the resources to mount legal challenges or relocate their farms,” some of those same family farmers saw it differently. Their view was that the vague language of the constitutional amendment would benefit large corporations over smaller operators. They saw the potential for the amendment to be used to prevent the labeling of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and to regulate pollution caused by agribusinesses, including concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).
Both supporters and opponents of the measure worked hard to share their message with their fellow citizens. The tables below show the donations made to each cause. Looking at the donors one can see how each side might conclude that they were right about the dangers they believed they were facing.
Funding in Support of the Amendment (From Ballotopedia)
Funding Opposing the Amendment
The Right-to-Farm amendment won by only 0.2 percent. In cases where the margin of victory is less than o.5 percent, Missouri law allows for a recount. The election results will be certified sometime between now and August 26. After the certification, opponents have one week to request a recount.
Whether the recount happens or not, many have already said that the real ramifications of the amendment will play out in court. It’s fair to say that we’re going to be hearing a lot more about “right to farm” in the future.