MONROE CITY, Mo. (AP) — A 2010 ballot initiative to toughen oversight of dog breeders highlighted the rift between Missouri farmers and national animal rights activists. Two years later, the divide has only deepened.
Twenty-five farm groups ranging from the Missouri Pork Association and the state Beef Industry Council to agribusiness heavyweights Cargill and Monsanto have united under the banner of Missouri Farmers Care.
Their target? The Humane Society of the United States, which pushed the dog breeding initiative and is now the primary financial backer of Your Vote Counts!, a proposed state constitutional amendment requiring a three-fourths majority vote before the Legislature could override voter-approved laws.
That's just what lawmakers did last year, reversing many of the new rules for dog breeders endorsed by a slight majority of Missouri residents just months earlier.
Farmers' anger was on full display at a recent Missouri Farmers Care meeting in Monroe City, 20 miles from the banks of the Mississippi River and half that distance from Mark Twain's birthplace in Florida, Mo.
Vehicles sported bumper stickers warning HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to "get your paws off our laws." Missouri Farmers Care flyers set on a table said, "Their goal is to end animal agriculture by increasing the cost of food and even through outright bans."
Activists view animals as "cuddly, furry things, not what we use to make money in livestock operations," said state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, a Republican whose district includes 13 northern Missouri counties dominated by hog farms and grain elevators.
"They weren't going to stop at pets," he added. "They're going after all of our farm animals."
Rural lawmakers such as Munzlinger have headlined a recent series of Missouri Farmers Care town hall meetings across the state. From Clinton and Harrisonville to Salem and St. Joseph, hundreds of farmers turn out twice a month for political rallies that bring together soybean growers, dairy producers and other agricultural groups that more often have focused on their own narrow interests, said Dan Kleinsorge, the farm group's operations manager
"Prop B was a wake-up call for agriculture," he said.
Farm groups in other states also are heeding the call, Kleinsorge noted, as HSUS and other animal rights groups target not just Missouri but two dozen states that allow signature-driven petitions to appear on ballots.
In neighboring Nebraska, Gov. Dave Heineman caused a stir this month when he referred to HSUS in saying, "We're going to kick your ass and send you out of the state." Farm groups there have formed a "We Support Agriculture" coalition as a pre-emptive move against potential HSUS-supported ballot efforts.
In Ohio, the state Farm Bureau formed a Center for Food and Animal Issues as part of its successful push for a 2009 ballot measure that created a livestock care oversight board. And in Iowa, farm groups stung by the release of videos of chicks being ground up and pigs being beaten convinced lawmakers to make it a crime to lie on a job application to get access to farms to make secret recordings.