Missouri Amendment 1: the right to farm – a bad idea

Missouri voters have the opportunity August 5 to add a “right to farm” provision to the Missouri Constitution. The wording on the ballot is this:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”

The text of the proposed amendment as taken from the House and Senate resolutions:

Section A. Article I, Constitution of Missouri, is amended by adding thereto one new section, to be known as section 35, to read as follows: 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.

We have five principal objections to this proposal:

  • It continues a deplorable trend to constitutionalize political disputes
  • It addresses a non-problem
  • The legislature should have addressed this issue with legislation
  • Constitutionalizing political issues invites court challenges and tit-for-tat amendments
  • If the amendment can prevent bad regulation, it can also prevent good regulation

One would think that the motivation behind this amendment is a response to a powerful movement to ban farming. There is of course no such movement and the odds of farming ever being banned are nil. Some people apparently have been led to believe that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is in a position to ban the eating of meat. Ridiculous. Scare tactics abound on both sides of this issue. The issue is not farming, it is which ‘farming practices’ may be regulated. And this is a question of detail, to be decided politically, and completely out of constitutional scope. We all know that if government has the power to do good, it also can do evil. No constitutional provision can preserve us from bad government.

Rep. Jason Smith, a Republican from Salem who sponsored the amendment, said here that constitutional change is needed to protect Missouri farmers from out-of-state animal rights groups and “environmental extremists.”

Out-of-state groups only have power to the extent that they are able to influence our elected officials. By a lopsided vote the legislature avoided its responsibilities and punted, sending this issue to the voters. This amounts to saying that the legislature does not trust itself to do the right thing now or in future.

In our view the Constitution should be a broad, coherent statement of the fundamental principles defining our polity; not a set of policy statements, but the framework within which specific policies may legitimately be derived. While our minds and bodies change as we age, the DNA defining our structure remains the same. The Constitution should be similar to our DNA.. Put another way, principles and policies with significant disagreement or opposition, particularly those with numbers or percentages, which would function like autoimmune disease, have no place in the Constitution.

Thus it is the job of the legislature to apply constitutional principles to specific problem areas, such as reasonable regulation of economic activity, including farming. But the Bill of Rights of the Missouri Constitution already protects farming in this clause:

“all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and the enjoyment of the gains of their own industry,”

We see no need to protect something that is already protected.

The environmental extremists Rep. Smith decries are Federal. They are a real threat. But the Missouri Constitution will not deter them. Bitter experience teaches that Federal courts have no respect for state constitutions when they conflict with their personal preferences. Even the Missouri Supreme Court has been wayward – a great reason for reforming the Missouri Plan.

The language of the amendment is rather ambiguous – the result of legislative ‘compromise.’ This is an invitation to meddling by courts. Does the amendment ‘forever guarantee’ farmers the unalienable right to farm in any manner whatsoever? Or is there a place for state and local regulation deriving from the ‘duly authorized powers’ of article VI? We now would have duelling provisions, which would need to be resolved. But once in the Constitution, resolution is taken outside of the political process and thrown into the courts. Need we add that courts are among the worst ways to settle political disputes?

Prof. Josh Hawley, the founder of the Missouri Liberty Project and a person we respect, has a different point of view. We agree with his encomium of farmers and farming, but disagree that a redundant and ambiguous constitutional amendment is called for.     Troglo



3 thoughts on “Missouri Amendment 1: the right to farm – a bad idea

  1. I think the outside groups that were referred to are often funded by George Soros and his ilk and this amendment does not address that problem. Groups from other states funded by people like George Soros pay out of state people to get signatures on a petition for the petition initiative process. I saw this at the entrances to the Columbia public library and the US Post Office downtown a few years ago when HSUS began their puppy mill campaign. I spoke to the people who were getting signatures and was told they were residents of Ohio and they were being paid $1.75 per signature. They had no problem getting signatures. It was easy money as so many in our community, and I assume this is true nation-wide, will sign anything it seems if they think they are doing some public good without any understanding of the issues or consequences. Is this what Jason Smith is concerned about? Either way, we have to be vigilant when these people hit our streets. I have no idea how to stop them, because I do not believe they are breaking any laws, and it can be quite costly to mount a campaign that refutes their efforts. In this respect I do believe we have to be on guard.

    • You have hit a crucial nail on the head, showmefairtaxation. We too have inquired about these initiative campaigns. The most recent one, in favor of ‘early voting,’ aka promote-low-info-voting and make-voter-fraud-easier, was paying $10/hour. Other initiatives were paying up to $3/signature. The guys positioned to get students moving between classes on campus did quite well.

      The current amendment proposal deals with farming practices generally. Nothing in it would prevent the next activist group from promoting its own amendment defining which practices are permitted and which are not.

      The political class should start speaking out strongly against these attempts to constitutionalize political issues. We would like to see it made more difficult for citizen initiatives to succeed. These initiatives, a legacy of the progressive era of the early twentieth century, have a mixed record at best. It would be appropriate for our political leaders – and schools – to stop promoting the idea that our representative government should be run based on polls, that policy should be determined by the weight of public opinion. Structural reform is admirable, but can be circumvented by clever politicos, administrators, and judges. Nothing can replace electing good people for public office.

  2. Smithfield Foods is the largest force in trying to pass this. They are owned solely by the Chinese who acquired that company in a hostile takeover. The Chinese right now cannot come into Missouri and buy up land to operate on their own, so they are duping small farmers into raising their hogs for them. If this passes, the small farmer will go out of business quickly as China cuts their production to the point they have to get out and possibly sell out to the Chinese. Missouri needs Missouri farmers, raising our food and getting the benefits for themselves for doing so. This is not about the Humane Society or somebody taking away the right of Missouri farmers to farm, it is about a foreign country attempting to gain a monopoly on farming in the United States, state by state! If they get this passed, Missouri will see mega confinements built that will both pollute the ground water, the air and destroy the property value of the surrounding properties, as well as destroying family farms. As the surrounding property owners try to move away from these cesspools, China will be there with the checkbook to buy their property. Don’t buy into the hype that this takes away farmers rights to farm, it actually will do just the opposite, it will put them out of business!

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