A Constitutional Right to Industrial Farming?

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from Bloomberg Businessweek,

Article I of Indiana’s constitution begins in the usual way, spelling out the familiar rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In November, Indiana voters may be asked to decide whether to add one more to the list: the right “to engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products.”

When Republicans in the state legislature introduced a bill in 2011 to start the process of amending the constitution, many people regarded it as a joke.

The bill’s sponsors said it was a way to keep non-farmers, including national animal rights groups, from meddling in the state’s rural interests—an update on the right-to-farm laws that protect farmers in all 50 states from being sued by people who move to rural areas from cities and then sue their new neighbors over the smell.

But the amendment could also help shield large industrial dairies, feedlots, and slaughterhouses from environmental and food safety regulations—and curb lawsuits from people who get sick from the rivers of noxious animal waste they produce.

Indiana is one of several states that have moved to change their constitutions to favor agricultural operations. In 2012, North Dakota became the first to enshrine a broad right to engage in “modern farming practices.” The same phrase popped up in a proposed Oklahoma amendment that has been tabled until the next legislative session. In Missouri, the word “modern” was dropped from the most recent version of the amendment due to concerns that it appeared too narrowly aimed at benefiting industrial farms. Instead, the legislature has asked voters to decide this year whether “the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”

Supporters in all three states have promoted the amendments as necessary to protect farmers from “out-of-state special interests” …

Peverill Squire, a University of Missouri political scientist who studies state constitutions, says the proposed amendments are rooted in concerns that the growing movement to reform industrial agriculture will mean trouble for farmers—that urbanites will try to restrict what methods or chemicals they can use or dictate how they house animals or deal with their waste. In several Indiana counties, activists are working to ban CAFOs—concentrated animal feeding operations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines CAFOs as businesses that “congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area.”

Eric Stickdorn says he fears that if the amendment passes, people who live next to agricultural pollution will have even fewer options for recourse. “We’re treating these facilities as if they’re farms,” says Ferraro, who represented the Stickdorns in court, “when really they’re factories.”

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