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August 01, 2014

‘Right to Farm’ or Right to Funnel Illegal Money Into Missouri Campaign?

Today, the Missouri Farmers Union sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture calling for a formal investigation into the potentially illegal use of federal pork check-off funds for a last-minute lobbying blitz in favor of Missouri’s Amendment 1, an overreaching and radical “right to farm” measure to be decided next Tuesday by voters there. The constitutional amendment, placed on the ballot by state lawmakers, pits industrial agriculture and major commodity groups against the state’s family farmers and state and national animal protection, environmental, religious and good government groups.

Veal crates
The Kansas City Star called Missouri's Amendment 1 "a concerted effort to shield factory farms" from regulations to protect animals, consumers and the environment. Photo: Farm Sanctuary

According to campaign finance reports required under the state’s election disclosure laws, the Missouri Pork Association, which receives the state’s share of national pork check-off funds, and its affiliated Missouri Pork PAC, have collectively sent more than $235,000 in contributions to Missouri Farmers Care, the Big Ag front group leading the "yes" campaign for Amendment 1. Much of that money came in as the fight over Amendment 1 became highly competitive, with the “Yes on 1” campaign realizing they’d suffer a major reputational hit if they lost the race. The financial shell game between the affiliates – all of which operate from the same address -- is of great concern because most of the Missouri Pork Association’s annual revenue comes from federal check-off dollars, which are not allowed to be used for lobbying purposes.   

Under federal law, farmers of certain commodities (including beef, pork and soybeans) are required to pay a percentage of their sales into a check-off fund. These funds are intended to be used to promote the sale of farm products – not to lobby for state or federal legislation or ballot measures. There have been major questions raised, and cases filed that are still active in the courts, by The HSUS and pig farmers who believe that the National Pork Producers Council and state pork councils, like Missouri’s, may be diverting funds for illegal lobbying activities.

“There simply is no way this adds up,” said Wes Shoemyer, a family farmer and HSUS Missouri Agriculture Council member, in a statement today. “The organizations working for the corporate interests based in New York and Beijing will apparently stoop to any low to push the Missouri family farmer off the land. They need to be held accountable to us as Missouri family farmers who pay this type of federal tax on every pig sold. We deserve to know if they have illegally used our own money to lobby against the interests of family farmers.”

Amendment 1 seeks to enshrine into the Missouri Constitution a right for corporations and others to engage in any activities they consider “farming” for perpetuity – whether it’s confinement of dogs in puppy mills or sows in gestation crates. Amendment 1 might also protect canned hunts and captive deer farms, which are a threat to native, free-roaming deer populations because of the spread of Chronic Wasting Disease. Neighbors of giant hog farms and family farmers who are being squeezed by Big Ag are fighting back and have joined with The HSUS to fight the ballot measure. 

In addition to the use of potentially illegal check-off funds, the campaign for Amendment 1 has gotten hundreds of thousands of dollars from Indiana multimillionaire Forrest Lucas. In 2010, Lucas invested hundreds of thousands of dollars against Missouri’s Proposition B, which set standards for the care of dogs at commercial breeding operations. The anti-animal welfare group he subsequently formed has lobbied against measures in other states to set felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to dogs, cats and horses, battled local efforts to promote spaying and neutering of pets, and fought against efforts to bring relief to dogs who are continuously chained outdoors.

Almost all of Missouri’s daily newspapers have editorialized against Amendment 1. The Kansas City Star called Amendment 1 “a concerted effort to shield factory farms and concentrated agricultural feeding operations from regulations to protect livestock, consumers and the environment.” The Joplin Globe called it “a measure designed to protect corporate agriculture rather than the traditional family farm.”  The Christian County Headliner News, Columbia Daily Tribune, Jefferson City News Tribune, Lake Sun Leader, Ozarks Sentinel, Springfield News-Leader, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Warrensburg Daily Star Journal, Webster County Citizen and West Plains Daily Quill have all urged voters to oppose the amendment. 

Watch what Missouri’s Food for America and the CEO of the Humane Society of Missouri have to say about Amendment 1.

Paid for by The Humane Society of the United States, Wayne Pacelle, CEO, 2100 L Street NW, Washington, DC 20037. 

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