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Government, Politics & Issues

Missouri's rural, urban fight over animals again heads to the ballot

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In an apparent backlash to the "puppy mill wars" of a couple years back, the Missouri General Assembly has approved a proposed "right to farm" constitutional amendment for the 2014 ballot.

The proposed ballot measure, which won’t require Gov. Jay Nixon’s approval, has general, seemingly non-controversial ballot language:

"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?"

But one of the chief sponsors, House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, made clear that the intent was tied to 2010’s Proposition B — a ballot measure narrowly approved by Missourians to put more restrictions on the state’s dog-breeding industry, which critics often dub "puppy mills."

The final version of the proposed constitutional amendment states, "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."

House Republican leaders said in a statement right after the final vote that "the proposed change to the Missouri Constitution is meant to give Missourians the opportunity to create a strong line of defense against the efforts of radical, out-of-state animal rights groups and environmental extremists.”

"These groups have tried to launch offensives against farm families here and in many other states around the country,” said Smith, R-Salem, in an apparent reference to animal-rights groups, such as the Humane Society, which were involved in the passage of Proposition B. (The General Assembly later acted to curb many of the proposition’s mandates since it was not a constitutional amendment.)

The animal-rights groups, said Smith, “have prompted states like North Dakota, Oklahoma and Indiana to take action to protect their agriculture industries. It is time for Missouri to do the same.”

House leaders say that the proposed two-page amendment “would, upon voter approval, affirm the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices. It also would give Missouri citizens standing to challenge new rules, regulations and laws that infringe upon the rights of farm families.”

Smith, by the way, is the Republican nominee for the 8th District congressional seat in a June 4 special election. His Democratic opponent, state Rep. Steve Hodges, D-East Prairie, also voted in favor of the measure putting the "right-to-farm" proposal on the ballot.

The proposal was among several agriculture-related measures that drew farmers and agriculture groups to the state Capitol on Tuesday. A lunchtime barbecue was held on the Capitol's front lawn, behind a banner that declared, "Missouri Farmers Care."

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