WASHINGTON, July 30, 2014 – Following in the footsteps of North Dakota’s successful ballot initiative, the latest state effort to protect a farmer’s “right to farm” is headed for a vote on Aug. 5 in Missouri. But supporters face strong headwinds from the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS), which is attempting to frame the debate as an attack on small family farms, among other things.
“The language of the amendment is a constitutional promise for farming practices,” said Blake Hurst, Missouri Farm Bureau (MFB) president and a farmer from Tarkio, Missouri. “We have seen in Missouri and across the nation, attempts to stop farming practices within the crop and livestock sectors, even though they are safe and environmentally sound.”
Interest in the constitutional amendment started to grow in 2010, after HSUS poured more than $4 million into the state to gain passage of “Proposition B,” The Missouri Dog Breeding Regulation Act. The so-called “puppy mill” prevention measure limited breeders to 50 dogs.
“Proposition B won statewide by less than 2 percent. It failed in 103 of Missouri’s 114 counties yet passed by large margins in the St. Louis and Kansas City metropolitan areas. Opponents, including many of the state’s agriculture organizations, were outspent roughly 9 to 1,” notes Dan Cassidy, MFB’s chief administrative officer. “It came as no surprise HSUS and their East and West Coast contributors focused on the metro areas where their large advertising budget could replace a non-existent ground game.”
Dan Kleinsorge, president of Missouri Farmers Care, says his members are worried that future state statutes, similar to Proposition B, could put farmers out of business. More than 1,000 people and 30 organizations support Amendment One, along with Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and two Republican U.S. representatives from the state, Sam Graves and Vicky Hartzler.
The Missouri Farmers Care PAC has raised more than $330,000 with donations from the Missouri Cattlemen’s Association, Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Electric Cooperatives, among others. The Missouri Farm Bureau Fund to Protect Farming and Ranching has donated more than $100,000 to support the measure.
Opponents of the amendment include Joe Maxwell, a former lieutenant governor of Missouri and now vice president for outreach and engagement for HSUS, and Wes Shoemyer, a former state representative and now the president of Missouri's Food for America and an HSUS adviser.
“This is my children’s future,” Shoemyer said. “I am a third-generation farmer, my son is the fourth and I would like to see a fifth. This will leave a huge impact on the future of farming in our state.” The Missouri Farmers Care PAC has raised more than $420,000, with the bulk of it, $375,000, coming in the form of a check from HSUS.
Still unknown – how much HSUS is pouring into its “ground game” of writing opinion pieces, meeting with editorial boards, and using social meeting to influence the vote in the most urban parts of the state. But agricultural advocates are also flexing their editorial muscles, with opinion pieces like “Confusion Grenade” by Missouri Cattlemen’s Executive VP Mike Deering.
In his Humane Nation blog, HSUS CEO Wayne Pacelle says the amendment could – in a worst case scenario - prevent the state from restricting foreign ownership of so-called “factory” farms and create a host of other problems.
But the foreign ownership argument is one that Missouri Farm Bureau – which has worked to tighten restrictions on foreign ownership – says is yet another example of misinformation. The organization has longstanding policy supporting the state’s prohibition on foreign ownership of Missouri farmland and is working hard to peel back a recent change in Missouri law that allowed up to 1 percent of farmland to be foreign-owned.
If Amendment One is approved, Missouri’s Constitution would read:
“Section 35. That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri's economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri's economy, 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.”
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