10 Reasons to Oppose ‘Right to Farm’ Amendments | Civil Eats

10 Reasons to Oppose ‘Right to Farm’ Amendments


Editor’s note: A “Right to Farm” amendment is up for a vote in Missouri this August, and while the Missouri Farm Bureau says the bill will “permanently enshrine and protect the rights of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices,” many worry that it could also make it impossible to criticize or regulate controversial farm practices, regardless of their impact. The Kansas City Star published an editorial calling the amendment a “concerted effort to shield factory farms and concentrated agricultural feeding operations from regulations to protect livestock, consumers and the environment.” A similar amendment passed in North Dakota last fall and there are two more coming up in Indiana and Iowa.


I grew up on a dairy farm and currently live in a small town in a farming area. I have spent my 50-year professional career working in agriculture, mostly with farmers and people in rural communities. I think farmers have the same “right to farm” as other Americans have to pursue any other professional occupation. However, I don’t think real farmers deserve, need, or even want special constitutional privileges. Here are ten reasons for opposing “right to farm amendments.”

1. Agricultural producers already benefit from special right to farm “legislation in all agricultural states. These laws protect farmers from frivolous nuisance suits brought by uninformed or intolerant neighbors who have moved into traditional farming communities.

2. People in rural communities who have the greatest concern for the future of family farms and rural communities are opposing right to farm amendments. National organizations, such as the Humane Society of the U.S. and the Sierra Club, support rural opponents because they don’t think agriculture should be exempt from public accountability for their actions.

3. Right to farm amendments are but the latest and boldest tactics of corporate, industrial agriculture to protect itself from growing public concerns about the overall integrity of the American food system. Previous tactics include Right to Farm laws of 1970s and 1980s, veggie libel laws of the 1990s, and ag-gag laws of the 2000s.

4. There is no economic justification for exempting industrial agriculture from the environmental and public health regulations. Industrial farms have not lowered the prices of meat, milk, or eggs in the past 20 years, and about 30 percent of U.S. production is now diverted to exports, keeping food prices high for Americans. It has driven independent producers off their farms and destroyed the economies of rural communities.

5. The primary beneficiary of right to farm amendments would be large corporately-controlled, industrial operations. At the very least, a constitutional “right to farm” would lead to endless, costly litigation which corporate agriculture believes they could win. The corporations’ commitment is to their stockholders, not to consumers, farmers, or rural communities. Corporate agriculture does not provide food for the 20 percent of American children who live in “food insecure” homes or hungry people developing countries, many of whom have been driven from their subsistence farms by agricultural industrialization.

We’ll bring the news to you.

Get the weekly Civil Eats newsletter, delivered to your inbox.

6. Any economic benefits of “right to farm” amendments would be reflected in increased consumption of animal products among affluent consumers in developing countries, such as China and Korea. Meanwhile Americans face increased food safety, environmental, and public health risks associated with expansion of corporate, industrial agriculture. They get the benefits, we keep the chemical and biological wastes.

7. Foreign corporations–including the largest pork, beef, and poultry processors in the U.S.–would be given special constitutional rights; including special exemptions from Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, Occupational Health and Safety Administration, and legitimate nuisance lawsuits–rights that ordinary American citizens do not have.

8. Enshrining farmers’ constitutional rights to use popular production technologies, such as genetically modified organisms (GMO) and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), would preclude future regulations that might later be deemed necessary to protect public health. This would be like having granted tobacco companies and smokers the constitutional rights to forever continue their practices of the 1970s.

9. There are better alternatives (PDF) for the future than industrial agriculture–for Americans, and for the world. An emerging sustainable agriculture, including organically grown crops and humanely raised livestock and poultry, would provide enough healthful food to meet the needs of Americans, while also “feeding the world,” without polluting the environment.

10. “Right to farm” amendments would deny people of their basic human rights of self-determination and self-defense. People have an inherent right to defend themselves whenever they have legitimate reason to believe their safety, health, and essential well-being is threatened. Constitutions were never intended to give special rights to any particular group of people, but instead to ensure that no particular people, including farmers, are able to deny the inherent rights of others.

Thank you for being a loyal reader.

We rely on you. Become a member today to read unlimited stories.

John Ikerd is Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics University of Missouri Columbia and the author of several books, including Crisis and Opportunity: Sustainability in American Agriculture. Read more >

Like the story?
Join the conversation.

  1. Katherine Wuthrich
    Another plan by big ag to slow the onslaught of lawsuits
    that may come their way. We do not nor have we ever
    needed laws to police farmers. We DO need laws to
    police BIG FARMAS!
  2. Ruth Hammons
    Protect the small farmers, not big pharma!!
  3. Josh Marshall
    You sir are nothing more than a pro-regulation leftist intent on hog tying small farmers down.

    The Humane Society of the US opposes "right-to-farm?" Gee.. aren't those the people who are successfully shutting down dog breeders in Missouri?

    "Right to farm would promote more animal consumption."
    This is a bad thing? What are you? A Vegan nut?

    Well I'm not. I am not stupid enough to swallow your "save the environment, lockup the humans agenda."

    I will vote for Amendment One
  4. Josh Marshall
    Regarding Point 10: Constitutions were never intended to give special rights to any particular group of people"

    The Constitution of the United States is intended to limit the FEDERAL government. A State's constitution is meant to equip the state with any level of powers necessary for it's people. Considering our litigious society and a certain ability for the judicial branch to "re-write law" I think spelling out the constitutional rights of Missouri's citizens is a good thing.

    Barak Obama says the Constitution is "outdated." Missourians are updating our constitution to ensure our rights don't get "re-written" by the courts. Maybe we can update our U.S. Constitution next to set things right?
  5. Kay
    We are in a lawsuit with a dairy that is a factory farm. Milking over 600 cows with young heifers and caves on property. My husbands father owned this land for over 75 years . We built on the land in 1976,dairy stared up in late 80s and grew tremendously. He has several buildings and huge silage pile on a small hill which runs to our adjacent property creating and large body of water on our property with silage and cow manure along with chemicals from joining corn fields. As of now he has covered 2 acres of our property and growing. We have the dairy farmers group, wiggles and farm bureau defending him. The right to farm law is making it impossible for us to go forward. Our lawyer is going to challenge the law that's been on the books since 1982. It will no dought end up going to Supreme Court . Can you offer us any advise. Not only out land is being damaged but our lives impacted . We have terrible odor , noise ,mosquito and flies. The water in our area has been impacted. There is two streams on both sides of dairy that are affected. We have exhausted every avenue with state .

More from




Senator Cory Booker Says FDA Proposal Could Worsen Antibiotic Resistance

A farmworker feeds cows in a barn.

Are Companies Using Carbon Markets to Sell More Pesticides?

a tractor sprays pesticides on a field while hazard symbols fade into the distance. (Civil Eats illustration)

In Brazil, a Powerful Law Protects Biodiversity and Blocks Corporate Piracy

An overhead shot of the Atlantic Forest in Brazil. (Photo credit: FG Trade, Getty Images)

Bringing Back Local Milk, Ice Cream, and Cheese

Foggy Bottoms Boys co-owner Cody Nicholson-Stratton pictured with his son. (Photo courtesy of Foggy Bottoms Boys)