I’ve got an idea: why don’t we Missourians follow up on passing our ALEC-supported ag-gag law with a full-blown amendment to the state constitution to shield industrial agriculture? That way, even if someone risks being officially listed as a terrorist and exposes factory farm conditions, it might be unconstitutional to force them to clean up their act.
Damn, they beat me to it: we’re already voting on an amendment that would guarantee the right of “farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices.”
First, wherever you stand on factory farming, agribusiness, or ALEC, this is the most idiotically vague wording I have ever seen in a law (again, I’m not making it up — here is the text). It manages to say literally nothing, because anything a farmer does in the operation of a farm is a farming practice. Until farming itself is outlawed, farmers by definition have the right to engage in farming practices. This says nothing about what practices may be regulated; we could pass a law requiring farmers to dress up all their pigs like Porky the Pig and it would be a protected “farming practice” (and a rather festive one at that). Clearly there’s something else going on.
Reporter Julie Bosman went interviewing about it in rural Missouri and encountered some real anti-outsider attitude. “I personally don’t know anybody that’s against this,” said an obviously annoyed farmer Richard Le Jeune of Halfway, Mo. in the NY Times. “Some of these city people don’t have a clue what goes on in the country and how food is produced. We need this to keep the outsiders from trying to run things.”
But Dick wasn’t so hostile when the “outsiders” were US taxpayers, licking their thumb and peeling off 27 crisp thousand dollar bills to subsidize his 573-acre cattle ranch:
No, the outsiders that seem to have motivated this amendment are the Humane Society, who alarmed agribusiness by their successful fight in 2010 to clamp down on inhumane puppy-mills in Missouri. (I guess welfare for animals doesn’t do down as well as welfare for farmers.) Amendment backers hope this will promote more pro-agribusiness anti-regulatory legislation and court decisions; Missouri’s ag-gag law wasn’t a very strong one, and they are paranoid about public pressure on them to give up their worst practices. It’s a Right to Farm Wrong law.
Fortunately, we in Missouri have an Attorney General, a Democrat at that; surely he will oppose this amendment, on legal if not philosophical grounds? Well, unfortunately, the AG is journeyman politician Chris Koster. Missouri pols have traditionally rolled over and pissed on their own bellies when patted by Big Ag, but few have stepped and fetched it with Chris Koster’s zeal (as Shelley Powers shows nicely).
Meanwhile, in Virginia (where I have been studying the incredibly feisty small-farm resurgence), there is also a move afoot to amend the state constitution to protect farmers. But it couldn’t be more different. It is being pushed by the Virginia Independent Consumers and Farmers Association, which has for years promoted small and local farming, inspired in part by revulsion against just the sort of practices Missouri is trying to enshrine.
It is as concrete as the Missouri bill is vague: “That the people shall have a right to acquire, for their own consumption, farm-produced food, directly at the farm from the farmer who produced it.” They have a long road ahead of them, but they have had some legislative successes of late, and they are in it for the long haul.
The difference couldn’t be more stark. Missouri big ag (and its goverment poodles) is promoting distant, industrial agriculture behind closed doors, with criminal penalties for opening the doors and amendments to resist changes behind the doors. Virginia small farmers are fighting for the right to throw the doors open wide, and to sell you clean, humanely-produced produce directly.
They are on the right track in Virginia. It’s Right to Farm Right.