Every state has a “right-to-farm” law on the books to protect farmers from being sued by their neighbors for the routine smells and sounds created by farming operations. But this year, the agriculture industry has been pushing in several states to amend those laws so that they will effectively prevent neighbors from suing farms at all — even massive industrial livestock operations.
Two national farm leaders called for federal protection from lawsuits that hold farmers liable for the noise and foul odors of increasingly large-scale agricultural production. "It is time for our elected leaders to step up and stop this madness," said Howard Hill, speaking for U.S. hog farmers and taking aim at lawsuits that allege North Carolina hog farms are nuisances to their neighbors. "The regulations need to be on the trial lawyers," said president Zippy Duvall of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
The proposed right-to-farm amendment to Oklahoma's constitution "was a little bit of a gamble and the gamble didn't pay off" in the view of agribusiness professor Derrell Peel of Oklahoma State University, says AgWeb. Voters rejected the amendment by a 3-to-2 margin in a rebuff of the farm and ranch sector last week.
Farm groups that said they wanted protection against out-of-state animal rights activists and anti-GMO campaigners failed to persuade Oklahoma voters, who rejected a proposed right-to-farm amendment to the state constitution by a landslide. The defeat, along with passage of a Massachusetts referendum on livestock welfare, dented the reputation of farm lobby, which failed to stop a nationwide GMO disclosure law in July.
The 2016 general election can be split into sectors of interest for food and agriculture issues: state referendums on agricultural issues; four municipal referendums on soda taxes, and three House races in which the food movement targeted Republican incumbents.
The farm lobby has a reputation for punching above its weight when it comes to federal policy, while the beverage industry usually has prevailed easily in arguments over soda taxes. Their winning records will be tested in Tuesday's general election, when polls suggest agricultural groups will lose referendums in Massachusetts and Oklahoma.
Conservative voters are turning their backs on a proposed right-to-farm amendment for Oklahoma's state constitution, a possibly pivotal shift in a politically conservative state. The independent Sooner Poll says voter support for the right-to-farm proposal, one of seven constitutional questions on Tuesday's ballot, has plummeted to 37 percent from its July level of 53 percent.
Oklahomans will decide on Nov. 8 whether to become the third state with a constitutional amendment guaranteeing a right to farm and ranch, a campaign whose chief target is animal-rights groups. Proponents have a 3-to-1 advantage in fundraising, says StateImpact Oklahoma, adding, "The issue has attracted more direct donations than any other ballot question, suggesting right-to-farm is high-stakes Oklahoma politics."
In Mount St. Joseph, in western Kentucky, "there is trouble in the air and it comes along with the smell of a large hog farm," says Ohio Valley ReSource, a public broadcasting project in the Ohio River Valley. A community group says Piggy Express, a recently constructed washing facility for trucks that haul hogs, might produce polluted runoff, but they have little recourse because of the Kentucky's right-to-farm law.
Property taxes and access to biotechnology are bigger issues for Nebraska farmers and ranchers than a right-to-farm amendment to the state Constitution, said leaders of six ag groups. The unified position by cattle, hog, dairy, corn and soybean growers and the Nebraska Farm Bureau could mean the end of efforts in the state legislature for an amendment which would prohibit regulation of agriculture without a compelling state interest.