JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Opponents of a Missouri ballot measure that would create a "right to farm" asserted Thursday that the proposed constitutional amendment could make it harder to enforce environmental regulations against corporate farms.
More than 50 people representing a mixture of family farmers, animal welfare activists and environmentalists rallied at the Missouri Capitol in opposition to Constitutional Amendment 1 on the August ballot.
They held "Vote No on Amendment One" signs and distributed glossy fliers featuring close-up photos of a pig, puppy and vegetables. The fliers warned that the measure could open Missouri farmland to foreign corporations and limit regulations on polluters, "puppy mills" and genetically modified crops.
"I don't think people should call this the 'right to farm,'" said Carolyn Amparan, of Columbia, a member of the executive committee of the Missouri chapter of the Sierra Club. "It should be called the 'right to overturn Missouri laws' or 'the right to pollute.'"
The brief ballot measure asks voters whether the right "to engage in farming and ranching practices should be forever guaranteed in this state."
Opponents allege it is "purposely vague" and could crowd the courts with lawsuits from businesses or people seeking to avoid Missouri's regulations.
"It could make industrial agriculture production, whether domestic or foreign, virtually untouchable in any court of law," said Lowell Schachtsiek, a Palmyra farmer who is a founding member of the Missouri Farmers Union.
The proposal would affect only Missouri farms. Federal courts have generally held that state laws cannot trump any conflicting federal laws.
The measure was referred to the ballot by Missouri's Republican-led Legislature and has been endorsed by the Republican State Committee, as well as many of Missouri's agricultural production organizations. Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon used his authority to place it on the Aug. 5 ballot instead of the November general election. Nixon has not taken a position on the measure.
Supporters began pursuing the constitutional amendment after animal activist groups financed a successful 2010 Missouri ballot initiative that imposed stricter regulations on commercial dog breeders. They cite fears that a similar initiative petition campaign could someday target livestock producers or genetically modified crops.
The proposed constitutional amendment l is not intended to undermine any current regulations affecting farms, said Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau Federation.
The goal is "to provide an extra layer of protection against these sorts of emotional campaigns" seeking to restrict particular types of livestock or crop production, Hurst said.
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