By ALYSE THOMPSON
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
TAYLOR, Mo. -- During a farm visit Thursday, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said a ballot question that would protect Missouri farmers from what he called "arbitrary" and "unreasonable" regulations would not eliminate agricultural regulation altogether but instead help keep the state's No. 1 industry globally competitive.
Koster touted Amendment 1, a "right to farm" constitutional amendment that will appear on the Aug. 5 primary election ballot, to a group of supporters gathered at C.B. Keller Farms in Taylor. If approved, the initiative would preserve under the Missouri Constitution the state's citizens' right to partake in agricultural production and ranching.
"Ten years ago, farmers didn't think they needed such protections. Now they do," Koster said.
Koster announced last year his plans to seek the 2016 Democratic nomination for governor.
From a truck bed stationed in front of a Keller cornfield, Koster cited three court cases and a Missouri proposition already on the books that to him constitutes "arbitrary" regulation.
He pointed to Kelo v. City of New London, a 2005 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court deemed the passing of land from one private owner to another via eminent domain for economic development purposes as "permissible public use." The ruling, he said, prompted him and other Missouri lawmakers in 2006 to draft legislation that would prevent declaring farmland as "blighted" for the purpose of eminent domain.
"We tried to give agricultural families the tools to protect Missouri's farmland from governmental taking for purely economic development purposes," he said.
Koster, a Democrat, also mentioned Arrow Rock v. Missouri Department of Natural Resources, a case in Saline County involving the attempt to establish a 15-mile buffer zone between a state park and a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO), and a federal case of his own, Koster v. Harris, that would require Missouri poultry farmers to construct larger facilities and reduce flock sizes in order to sell eggs in California.
Furthermore, Koster argued the "danger" of laws such as Proposition B, a 2010 measure that limits dog-breeding operations to 50 dogs, and he contended similar restrictions could be placed on cattle and hog operations.
"Any arbitrary limit on the size of a business, no matter how well that business is being operated, is not only arbitrary, it's frankly shocking," he said.
The full measure asks: "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?"
Some opponents say the language is too vague, while others, including groups Missouri's Food For America, the Missouri Association for Social Welfare and the Missouri Farmers Union, say the initiative will benefit big agribusiness and hurt small farmers.
Ralph Griesbaum, president of the Marion County Farm Bureau, disagreed, adding the majority of Missouri farms are family farms.
"This affects every one of them," he said after Koster's presentation. "This gives not only the farmer but the consumer choices as to what type of product they want. Without this, we are at the mercy of special interest groups to come in and tell us how to raise our livestock or what of kind of crops we can raise."
Some opponents are concerned with animal safety. The Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, for example, argued in its position statement the measure would "no doubt result in the filing of frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to overturn current state laws and regulations on the care of animals,"
State Sen. Brian Munzlinger, R-Williamstown, said that's not correct.
"The laws that we got on the books about animal abuse, degradation of the environment or the authority the counties have now, all of that will stay as it is," he said. "What this prevents is the erroneous regulations that these radical activist groups try to put on Missouri farmers."
Koster also emphasized Missouri's agricultural roots and their ability to connect the state to global markets.
"In many ways, agriculture defines us as a people locally, nationally and internationally," Koster said. "As one of Missouri's leading exports, it is how we dialogue with the international business world, and our state always has to remain competitive in the global discussion."