Koster announces support for ‘Right to Farm’ amendment

Nixon says he’s leaning against the amendment

Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said Wednesday he supports the “Right to Farm” amendment that voters will decide on next month.

“I understand why Missouri farmers desire the protection of our state’s Constitution,” Koster told Amendment 1 supporters at the Missouri Farm Bureau headquarters.

“And, given the events of the past decade, I support the passage of the Right to Farm amendment.”

Koster, who already has said he plans to run for governor two years from now, staked out a position that’s apparently opposite fellow Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s thoughts.

Nixon told reporters in Columbia on Tuesday he’s “leaning” toward opposing the amendment.

“I always have a deferral position of unless I really, really am for it, then I’m not for amending the constitution,” Nixon said.

Lawmakers last year passed the resolution sending the proposal to voters.

Nixon this year ordered it to be placed on the Aug. 5 primary election ballot, with voters being asked: “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?”

After delivering a 10-minute explanation for his supporting the proposed amendment, Koster told reporters Wednesday, “I don’t know how much litigation will come from this, but some litigation may be appropriate.”

But the potential for lawsuits is a reason to vote against the amendment, former state Sen. Wes Shoemyer, D-Clarence, said.

“All these regulations that are in statute today will be subject to a court challenge,” Shoemyer said. “When someone is given a constitutional right, it’s their right to do what they want on their land, subject to definition by the courts.”

Shoemyer, a Monroe County farmer, formed the group Missouri’s Food for America to oppose the amendment.

But Koster disagrees with Shoemyer’s view.

“Some opponents of this amendment have claimed that the constitutional language is nothing more than platitude, that the amendment accomplishes nothing,” the attorney general said. “Other opponents have said that placing such a right in the Constitution is overbroad, and prevents all regulation of agriculture, undoes the Natural Resources department’s CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation) setback requirements and eliminates county health ordinances throughout Missouri. I respectfully disagree with both of these views. All rights granted to citizens, even those placed in our Constitution, are subject to reasonable regulation.

“Passage of this amendment would continue to allow agriculture to be subject to reasonable regulation in our state.”

Shoemyer said the amendment just isn’t necessary.

“I already possess these rights” through state laws, he explained. “Let’s not give family farmers’ rights away to foreign corporations.”

Missouri already has a law limiting the amount of farmland a foreign company can own, and Koster said that could be defended in court.

“If the foreign ownership of land is challenged, it would be my job as attorney general, or my successor’s job, to articulate a strong governmental interest that is furthered by that law,” he said. “Among them would be food security.”

But, Shoemyer countered, foreign companies already have some control. The largest owner of beef in the county, he cited, is a foreign corporation — Brazilian, JBF.

“And now, the largest owner of pork — 27 percent of the pork produced in this country — is owned by a Chinese corporation, and they have to answer to a Communist form of government. There’s nothing more ‘outside’ than someone owning your food.”

Amendment 1 supporters have argued that the proposal is needed because of pressures from outside groups, like the Humane Society of the United States, that have tried to change agricultural practices in Missouri and other states.

The HSUS backed the 2010 Proposition B, which changed some of the rules for operating “puppy mills” in the state.

“Proposition B limited dog breeding businesses in Missouri to a maximum of 50 dogs,” Koster noted. “While many Missourians, including myself, supported aspects of Prop B, an arbitrary limit on the size of any business — no matter how well that business is operating — seemed arbitrary and, frankly, shocking.

“If out-of-state interests can limit a dog breeder to 50 dogs, why not limit a hog farm to 50 hogs? Or a cattle ranch to 50 cattle? Or an accounting firm to 50 accountants?”

Both Koster and Shoemyer noted that Missouri lawmakers modified that provision and several others in the original, voter-approved Proposition B.

Koster argued that passing Amendment 1 would make it harder for a law with unfriendly provisions to be passed.

Shoemyer noted Proposition B was a change to state law, and lawmakers could change it.

But a constitutional amendment is harder to modify.

“If this is passed, we’re just giving the whole farm away, with no recourse for local government or for our Legislature,” Shoemyer said.

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