If farm interests are successful, Oklahoma could amend its constitution to protect itself from those who are trying to change the face of agriculture in the state.
Months from now, in November 2016, the citizens of Oklahoma will vote on whether to adopt a constitutional amendment, called State Question 777, a Right to Farm measure.
Both North Dakota and Missouri have passed similar constitutional amendments. North Dakota’s Farming and Ranching Amendment passed by nearly 67% in 2012, and Missouri’s Right to Farm Amendment passed narrowly in 2014.
If passed, however, Oklahoma’s amendment would be the strongest to date, according to John Collison, vice president for public policy for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau.
“Our amendment requires a compelling state interest for the state of Oklahoma to ban a farming practice,” said Collison.
Banning an agricultural practice is not without precedent in Oklahoma. For example, Collison noted that a compelling state interest led Oklahoma to ban castor beans from being grown in the state due to their high ricin content, a human toxin, and concern that ricin contamination could spread to wheat.
“The amendment would protect farmers and ranchers into the future from outside interests like HSUS (Humane Society of the United States), PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and the Sierra Club that want to put an end to modern agriculture,” Collison noted.
What is occurring in Oklahoma is certainly nothing new. Several states have already passed laws that ban certain types of farm practices, primarily related to on-farm animal confinement, while others—like North Dakota and Missouri—have passed laws to protect agricultural practices.
According to the National Agricultural Law Center (NALC), Florida was the first state to propose and pass a law related to on-farm animal confinement. In 2002, Florida passed a constitutional amendment with 55% of the vote, making it illegal to confine sows to crates that prohibit them from turning around. There are several examples of similar laws in other states:
- In 2006, Arizona passed a ballot initiative, with 62% of the vote, which makes it unlawful to prevent pregnant sows and veal calves from lying down and fully extending their limbs or turning around freely, according to NALC.
- In 2007, Oregon was the first state to legislatively pass a statue related to on-farm animal confinement. Oregon’s law makes it unlawful to prevent pregnant sows from lying down and fully extending their limbs or turning around freely for more than 12 hours in any 24-hour period. Since then, Maine and Colorado have passed similar laws.
- In 2008, California’s Proposition 2 extended protection to laying hens by banning battery cages. On Jan. 1, 2015, it became illegal for California egg producers to sell eggs for human consumption from hens housed in these cages.
HSUS has sponsored all of these statutes, according to NALC. Since 2008, at least 20 other states have proposed similar laws related to confinement in animal agriculture.
The HSUS is also backing a newly formed coalition in Oklahoma, called the Oklahoma Stewardship Council, which is opposed to State Question 777. The council argues that Oklahoma’s amendment would enshrine the rights of farmers in the state’s constitution, which could lead to increased air and water pollution as well as the poor treatment of animals. “No other industry in Oklahoma enjoys that type of protection,” said Drew Edmondson, chair of the Oklahoma Stewardship Council, former state attorney general for Oklahoma, and legal counsel for HSUS.