RURAL ROUTES/Margot Ford McMillen

When Right to Farm = Right to Harm

In the relentless march to take the production of food out of the hands of communities and put it in the hands of corporations, we zoom in on mid-Missouri, an area ripe for corporate plunder. We have good water, good air and a nice, quality, family-life way of life.

But, when we go to the polls on August 5, we could be handing that all over to industry.

Here’s what the amendment would say: “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.”

It sounds pretty benign, but Missouri already has a law guaranteeing farmers the right to farm. It is Section 537.295 of the Missouri Revised Statutes, and I’ll let you look that up. So, regarding Amendment One, experts argue that if this is adopted, the vague wording will create a huge new flood of lawsuits between corporations and neighbors. It would mean there could be no restrictions on industry unless the state general assembly passes new laws. It would dismantle the county health ordinances, zoning ordinances, regulations on CAFOs and any other guidelines in place. Industry would have no restrictions on where they could put a facility, even if they know it will endanger the health of neighbors.

To make matters worse, last year the General Assembly forced passage of a law to allow foreign corporations to own Missouri farmland. China is buying Missouri land already, and has taken over land purchased by Premium Standard Farms back in the 1990s. Putnam County farmer Terry Spence says it’s “an uncomfortable feeling” to live next door to a company owned by China.

Amendment One is backed by both Monsanto and Cargill, so we can expect a flood of money into this August vote, but a few brave lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have come out against it. Sen. Rob Schaaf, a Republican (R-34) has expressed concerns over the public’s safety if the amendment is adopted, saying that this could lead to a situation in which it is more difficult for state regulators to control super-food poisoning bugs created as a result of feeding antibiotics to livestock.

Monroe County farmer and former state legislator Wes Shoemyer, a Democrat, worries that the constitutional status of the measure would allow it to override all other state statutes dealing with agriculture. He said, “Whenever we see this type of constitutional amendment, it will actually take away folks right for redress if there are some very egregious nuisance of environmental issues that might arise in the future.” For example, a farmer who wants to farm either organic or non-genetically modified organism (GMO) crops would have no redress if their crops are contaminated by GMO crops.

While most of the commodity groups have come out for the amendment, which they call “Right to Farm” and I call “Right to Harm,” many independent farm groups are against it. The Missouri Farmers Union says Amendment One will provide protections for large agribusiness corporations, saying, “Now that a company based in the Peoples Republic of China owns Smithfield Foods, the General Assembly is at it again by enshrining them in the sacred Constitution.” In an editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, president of the Missouri Farmers Union, Richard R. Oswald, argued that much of recent Missouri legislation that claims to protect farmers has actually benefited corporations to the detriment of small farmers.

On May 15, four of my neighbors received registered letters announcing that a big company from Iowa is going to build enough huge CAFOs to house thousands of hogs. Iowa’s already too crowded with pigs, and they want to raise babies. Awww ... Cute ...

They want to raise an estimated 100,000 baby pigs a year here. Not cute. But they’ve polluted Iowa to the point that there’s no place left. Worse, they’ve created a new disease that affects baby pigs and can’t be cured. This is putting pressure on the growers that want to grow the babies and send them to locker plants to be turned into sausage.

And what will become of the sausage? Trucked to St. Louis Lambert Field and mailed to faraway places?

If Amendment One passes, there will be no controls over where a CAFO can be located. No zoning, no county ordinances could protect the neighborhood.

Now, the last time I was at the airport, I noticed there’s a huge, empty mall just a few miles away. It had housed Famous-Barr, an old local department store, which was purchased by Macy’s, then went out of business.

Looks like a perfect place to raise pigs for export, if you ask me.

Margot Ford McMillen farms and teaches English at a college in Fulton, Mo. Email

From The Progressive Populist, August 1, 2014

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