IBJNews

Indiana considers amendment that could shield industrial farms

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Article I of Indiana’s constitution begins in the usual way, spelling out the familiar rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In November, Indiana voters may be asked to decide whether to add one more to the list: the right “to engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products.”

When Republicans in the state legislature introduced a bill in 2011 to start the process of amending the constitution, many people regarded it as a joke. The Senate minority leader mockingly tried to tack on a constitutional right to garden; a local political columnist called the amendment a “circus-like sideshow.”

The bill’s sponsors said it was a way to keep non-farmers, including national animal rights groups, from meddling in the state’s rural interests—an update on the right-to-farm laws that protect farmers in all 50 states from being sued by people who move to rural areas from cities and then sue their new neighbors over the smell.

But the amendment could also help shield large industrial dairies, feedlots, and slaughterhouses from environmental and food safety regulations—and curb lawsuits from people who get sick from the rivers of noxious animal waste they produce. “All the safeguards that we already have would be subject to constitutional challenge,” says Kim Ferraro, an attorney with the Hoosier Environmental Council. “You can’t limit an activity if it’s a fundamental right.”

Indiana is one of several states that have moved to change their constitutions to favor agricultural operations. In 2012, North Dakota became the first to enshrine a broad right to engage in “modern farming practices.” The same phrase popped up in a proposed Oklahoma amendment that has been tabled until the next legislative session.

In Missouri, the word “modern” was dropped from the most recent version of the amendment due to concerns that it appeared too narrowly aimed at benefiting industrial farms. Instead, the legislature has asked voters to decide this year whether “the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”

Supporters in all three states have promoted the amendments as necessary to protect farmers from “out-of-state special interests,” in the phrasing of the pro-amendment group Missouri Farmers Care. One of those special interests is the Humane Society of the United States, which sought to regulate puppy mills in the state.

“We’ve seen an increase in efforts by what we would call activist organizations throughout the country and in Missouri to try to impose unreasonable and unnecessary restrictions on agriculture,” says Leslie Holloway, director of state and local governmental affairs for the Missouri Farm Bureau. “We’re taking the approach of trying to be proactive.”

Indiana’s legislators took a somewhat stealthier approach, downplaying the benefits to commercial agriculture and naming their version the Indiana Right to Hunt and Fish Amendment. Both houses had already approved the bill once (they must do so twice to get it on the ballot in November) before many environmental groups realized what had happened. “It just slipped right past us,” Ferraro says.

Much of the drive behind the amendments has come from big corporations. Members of Missouri Farmers Care include Cargill—one of the nation’s largest processors of beef, pork, and turkey—and Monsanto, as well as a long list of state agricultural industry associations. Some of them have been pressing for farm protections for years. In 1996, the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a group that brings together corporations and state lawmakers to write pro-business bills, came up with model legislation that would expand existing right-to-farm laws to grant wide-ranging legal rights to farms of all sizes.

ALEC’s bill, intended as a template for state politicians, voided local farm ordinances and made it harder to lodge complaints about animal mistreatment, pollution, and noise. Supporters and opponents of the amendments see them as the evolution of those efforts, taking farm protection, for better or worse, to the next level.

Peverill Squire, a University of Missouri political scientist who studies state constitutions, says the proposed amendments are rooted in concerns that the growing movement to reform industrial agriculture will mean trouble for farmers—that urbanites will try to restrict what methods or chemicals they can use or dictate how they house animals or deal with their waste.

In several Indiana counties, activists are working to ban CAFOs—concentrated animal feeding operations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency defines CAFOs as businesses that “congregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area.”

Going after puppy mills “may be one thing, but when people start talking about cattle and the treatment of pigs, that gives them greater worry,” Squire says. “They want to strike first, in essence, and prevent any of that concern from taking root.”

When a dairy operation moved next door to Eric and Lisa Stickdorn’s farm in Wayne County, in 2003, the couple couldn’t believe the stench. At first, “We’d grit our teeth and say, ‘We’re going to stay here,’ ” says Eric, who raises grass-fed beef on 120 acres. “We’re farmers, too. We’re not unaccustomed to manure odors.”

But the open manure pit near their house was more than they could take. They say the dairy workers would sometimes dump animal waste onto frozen fields, turning the water in the stream that ran across their property into a foaming sludge. Their well water smelled of manure. They started experiencing headaches, nausea, and vomiting, which their doctor attributed to exposure to hydrogen sulfide gas given off by the waste pits.

They moved out of their house and turned to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and Office of Environment Adjudication for help, to no avail. Finally they sued the dairy to change the way it disposed of animal waste and won on appeal. Faced with the need to change their operations, the dairy owners offered to sell their land to the Stickdorns, who bought it and moved back home last July, after nine years away.

Eric Stickdorn says he fears that if the amendment passes, people who live next to agricultural pollution will have even fewer options for recourse. “We’re treating these facilities as if they’re farms,” says Ferraro, who represented the Stickdorns in court, “when really they’re factories.”
 

ADVERTISEMENT

  • Individual Rights
    A constitution should protect the individual from the government. This would allow the constitution to protect corporations from an individual that wants a healthy community. Does that sound like the role of a constitution?
  • Wrong
    This amendment will protect INDUSTRIAL FARMS....not the people or animals
  • Exactly Bob
    The reason for this amendment is that most of the large corporations are willing to do anything to increase productivity, without any concern to the welfare of animals or whether they are asking their employees to act as immoral human beings. They will turn a blind eye to the welfare of their workers and animals which they will treat like machines rather than sentient creatures, all occurring outside the view of the uninformed public while they use cute marketing that portrays the opposite conditions, such as the dairy commercials indicating that happy cows live in California and provide the best milk. The happiest cows certainly do not live on factory farms. There should be no constitutional right to hide industrial food production from the public and to prevent it from being regulated.
    • Ashamed
      If only I could move to a civilized state. Indiana is more and more of a joke. Indiana is all about the big industry at the expense of the people. This "amendment" to the constitution would be another giant leap backward, in a state that is medieval in it's outlook.
    • awful
      Stories like this disgust me about Indiana. We truly are in a race to the bottom with states like Oklahoma, Alabama, West Virginia and Mississippi.
    • Nothing to hide
      If you are not doing things you shouldn't why would you care if someone shot undercover video at your farm.
    • Open Access
      Open Access is essential for informing the public in case the public wants to criminalize a particular practice. The excuse that "they aren't breaking any laws" is an excuse that begs on ignorance of the public, as we don't have access to all the information. .... As the article shows, State agencies that can study and regulate these businesses will turn a blind eye, as IDEM is well known to take the side of business over individuals.

      Post a comment to this story

      COMMENTS POLICY
      We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
       
      You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
       
      Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
       
      No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
       
      We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
       

      Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

      Sponsored by
      ADVERTISEMENT

      facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

      Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
      Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
       
      Subscribe to IBJ
      1. Of what value is selling alcoholic beverages to State Fair patrons when there are many families with children attending. Is this the message we want to give children attending and participating in the Fair, another venue with alooholic consumption onsite. Is this to promote beer and wine production in the state which are great for the breweries and wineries, but where does this end up 10-15 years from now, lots more drinkers for the alcoholic contents. If these drinks are so important, why not remove the alcohol content and the flavor and drink itself similar to soft drinks would be the novelty, not the alcoholic content and its affects on the drinker. There is no social or material benefit from drinking alcoholic beverages, mostly people want to get slightly or highly drunk.

      2. I did;nt know anyone in Indiana could count- WHY did they NOT SAY just HOW this would be enforced? Because it WON;T! NOW- with that said- BIG BROTHER is ALIVE in this Article-why take any comment if it won't appease YOU PEOPLE- that's NOT American- with EVERYTHING you indicated is NOT said-I can see WHY it say's o Comments- YOU are COMMIES- BIG BROTHER and most likely- voted for Obama!

      3. In Europe there are schools for hairdressing but you don't get a license afterwards but you are required to assist in turkey and Italy its 7 years in japan it's 10 years England 2 so these people who assist know how to do hair their not just anybody and if your an owner and you hire someone with no experience then ur an idiot I've known stylist from different countries with no license but they are professional clean and safe they have no license but they have experience a license doesn't mean anything look at all the bad hairdressers in the world that have fried peoples hair okay but they have a license doesn't make them a professional at their job I think they should get rid of it because stateboard robs stylist and owners and they fine you for the dumbest f***ing things oh ur license isn't displayed 100$ oh ur wearing open toe shoes fine, oh there's ONE HAIR IN UR BRUSH that's a fine it's like really? So I think they need to go or ease up on their regulations because their too strict

      4. Exciting times in Carmel.

      5. Twenty years ago when we moved to Indy I was a stay at home mom and knew not very many people.WIBC was my family and friends for the most part. It was informative, civil, and humerous with Dave the KING. Terri, Jeff, Stever, Big Joe, Matt, Pat and Crumie. I loved them all, and they seemed to love each other. I didn't mind Greg Garrison, but I was not a Rush fan. NOW I can't stand Chicks and all their giggly opinions. Tony Katz is to abrasive that early in the morning(or really any time). I will tune in on Saturday morning for the usual fun and priceless information from Pat and Crumie, mornings it will be 90.1

      ADVERTISEMENT