Voters in Oklahoma will have the opportunity this November to approve or disapprove amending the state’s Constitution to include a Right-to-Farm amendment.
The ballot initiative, known as SQ (State Question) 777, is in response to mounting pressure by interest groups, many of them from outside of Oklahoma, to restrict the use of animals and curtail other traditional agricultural practices on the state’s farms and ranches. State Rep. Scott Biggs, a Republican, told oklahomafarmreport.com that the amendment “will keep outside interest groups from coming to Oklahoma and telling us how to farm and ranch.”
If approved by the voters, the state’s Constitution will be amended to read:
The legislature shall pass no law which abridges the right of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.
SQ 777 does not apply to and does not affect state laws related to trespass, eminent domain, mineral rights, easements, right of way or other property rights, and any state statutes or political subdivision ordinances enacted before December 31, 2014.
The measure is supported by a host of groups, including the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association, Oklahoma Pork Council, Oklahoma Cotton Council, American Farmers & Ranchers, Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association, The Poultry Federation, Oklahoma Agricultural Cooperative Council, Oklahoma Sorghum Association, and Oklahoma Agri-Women.
Stewardship of Land by Farmers and Ranchers
“Oklahoma farmers and ranchers work hard raising wholesome and high-quality food,” said Michael Kelsey, executive vice president of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association. “State Question 777 gives assurance that they can continue their stewardship of the land, animals, crops and ultimately all of us as consumers.”
Mark Yates, director of field operations for the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, accused those opposing the Right-to-Farm amendment of using pretexts to cover their real agenda. “The opposition is making this about water, and it has nothing to do with water… They are also the ones putting the billboards up in Tulsa and Oklahoma City (saying the same thing)…”
Anti-SQ 777 billboards have in fact sprung up in and around the state’s two largest cities. Opponents of SQ 777 are focusing on what they say are the threats modern agriculture poses to bodies of water as well as animals. Those groups include the Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Oklahoma Coalition of Animal Rescuers, Oklahoma Municipal League, Save the Illinois River, Oklahoma Stewardship Council, and the Conservation Council of Oklahoma. They urge voters to vote “No” on the ballot initiative. They aim their fire at the effect confined animal feeding operations have on poultry and other livestock, the use of genetically-modified (GMO) crops, and pesticide runoff into the state’s rivers.
“State Question 777 amounts a massive giveaway to corporate agriculture in a truly unprecedented way,” said Denise Deason-Toyne, president of Save the Illinois River. “Oklahomans have a right to clean water, clean air, and food safety. The ‘Right-to-Harm’ amendment strips them of those rights in favor of an industry that cares only about its own bottom line.”
Before the amendment could be placed on the ballot, it first had to be approved by the state Senate and House of Representatives. The Humane Society of the United States lobbied heavily against the initiative, including showering state legislators with anti-SQ 777 emails. Despite HSUS’s efforts, legislation approving the ballot initiative passed easily. HSUS, a radical national animal-rights organization, wasn’t helped by its over-the-top rhetoric. The group’s CEO Wayne Pacelle has said, “I don’t want to see another cat or dog born.”
Many states have right-to-farm statutes, but right-to-farm constitutional amendments are something new. North Dakota was the first state to adopt a right-to-farm constitutional amendment, doing so in 2012. Missouri followed suit in 2014.