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Right to Farm Laws
Controversial Right-to-Farm laws pit the interests of “Big Agriculture” versus family farmers versus animal advocates. Historically, Right-to-Farm (“RTF”) laws were passed in response to suburbanization that threatened traditional farming. RTF laws do not, however, treat all farms as equals. These laws favor the interests of big “factory farms” over smaller farms, which tend to practice more humane animal husbandry. Newer RTF laws also restrict neighboring small farms from bringing lawsuits against the big factory farms over issues such as water and air pollution, use of pesticides and genetically modified seeds.
Recent RTF laws have also codified a standard of care for agricultural animals as that which is “usual and customary” without specifying what constitutes usual and customary practices and standards . Nearly every “inhumane” farming practice being challenged today—gestation crates, veal crates, battery cages, tail docking and the force-feeding of ducks and geese for the production of foie gras—are considered usual and customary ways to treat animals used for food and fiber production.
In 1963, Kansas was the first state to pass a RTF law to prevent the filing of nuisance lawsuits against farmers. Since then, all states have passed some form of RTF law, including North Dakota and Missouri which have enacted state constitutional amendments that protect the right to farm. Rights enumerated in a state constitution create a much higher barrier to challenge the provisions contained in RTF laws, provisions that make it almost impossible to legislate humane changes to the way farmers conduct their business.
State Constitutional Law Amendments:
North Dakota: “The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production, and ranching practices.”
Missouri: “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.”