Farmers take action with right to farm plan

North Dakota lobby group | The group is collecting signatures to allow a vote that would prevent groups from interfering with agricultural practices

Most American farmers used to make a clear distinction between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States.

Now, producers in many states, including North Dakota, refer to the two organizations in the same breath to describe groups that are anti-animal agriculture.

For example, Jeff Missling, executive vice-president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, calls the humane society a radicalized ex-tremist group.

“Their long-term goal is to make everyone a vegetarian or a vegan and try to shut down meat consumption,” he said.

“They’re going about it incrementally by initially … trying to attack our animal agricultural industry.”

After watching the humane society sponsor or financially support successful ballot initiatives that banned sow gestation crates, battery cages and veal crates in several states, livestock producers and farmers in North Dakota decided the humane society would eventually target animal agriculture practices in their state.

Instead of waiting for the humane society to arrive, the farm bureau launched a pre-emptive strike last summer.

Since August, the farm lobby group has been collecting signatures for a right to farm ballot initiative for the next general election.

If they collect 26,904 signatures, or four percent of the state’s population, by Aug. 8, North Dakota voters will vote Nov. 6 on a proposed amendment to the state constitution.

The proposal reads: “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.”

Missling said the amendment, if approved by voters, would prevent outside groups from meddling with animal agriculture practices in the state.

Science based practices that satisfy U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency standards could not be banned.

“Provided we do it legally and utilize that stuff the right way, why shouldn’t we have that right to continue to do that … without fear of retribution,” he said.

The amendment doesn’t mean farmers will be above the law, Missling added.

Producers will still have to follow state and federal regulations that govern farm practices.

The farm bureau and its allies have collected more than 20,000 signatures and expect to easily surpass the 26,904 threshold by Aug. 8.

Julie Ellingson, executive vice-president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, said cattle ranchers support the right to farm initiative.

The concept was inspired by a recent plebiscite on hunting rights in North Dakota, she added.

“A ballot initiative was passed that would protect the constitutional right for sportsmen activities,” she said.

“I think that was a catalyst … for the constitutional protection for modern farming practices, so a group or legislation couldn’t arbitrarily ban a certain practice.”

Missling said the idea of amending a state constitution to protect farm practices is unique.

“It really is one of the first big stands where a state is trying to take this on and amend a state constitution to address some of these issues,” said Missling.

He said he has received calls and e-mails from media and farm groups from across America who are curious about the concept.

Ellingson said North Dakota farmers support the right to farm amendment largely because they don’t trust the humane society.

“I think there is more of a recognition, in recent years, of what the Humane Society of the United States is really all about,” she said.

“The frustrating thing for us, in animal agriculture, is that the HSUS is a savvy marketer. They do a good job of getting donations from well-meaning people through ads for sappy eyed dogs and cats and polar bears.”

The humane society didn’t provide a comment for this story before deadline.

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