Right to farm initiative relieves N.D. producers

Mercy for Animals Canada accomplished one of its goals this fall when it sneaked into a hog barn near Arborg, Man., and secretly taped footage of alleged animal abuse, generating headlines across the country and likely around the globe.

It’s difficult to prevent this kind of negative press in the age of cellphone cameras, particularly if farm employees ignore best management practices.

However, farmers in North Dakota have found a way to limit the influence and consequences of this type of activism.

In November, North Dakota residents voted in favour of the right-to-farm ballot initiative, which amends the state’s constitution and protects a farmer’s right to employ “modern” agricultural practices.

Jeff Missling, executive vice-president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau and one of the driving forces behind the amendment, said the change doesn’t protect farmers who abuse animals or don’t follow established practices.

“It does not or should not provide a safe haven for producers … who aren’t doing things the right way,” he said.

What it does, though, is block new laws that abridge a producer’s right to use modern agricultural practices.

For example, the Manitoba case raised questions about the proper way to euthanize piglets because the video showed employees killing piglets by striking their heads against a concrete floor.

Laurie Connor, a University of Manitoba animal science professor, noted the practice isn’t pretty but is effective and humane if executed properly.

North Dakota’s right-to-farm amendment would prevent legislation outlawing such a practice, assuming it is a scientifically valid way to euthanize a pig.

Similarly, the constitutional amendment would block attempts by legislators to pass a law banning pesticides.

Missling said the word “modern” in the amendment would be based on best practices established by university professors and other agricultural experts.

However, modern practices aren’t set in stone.

“That could change and that’s why we put the word modern in there,” Missling said.

“(In) 10 or 20 years from now, maybe there is a new practice that comes out and works better. Maybe that’s what we should be employing at that time.”

North Dakota is the first state to change its constitution to protect farmers in this fashion, putting it in the agricultural spotlight.

“I can tell you that we have had interest not only within our country but from you folks up in Canada, from Sweden, it’s remarkable the calls we’ve got on this,” Missling said.

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