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Missourians Fight ALEC Over Big Agriculture’s “Right to Farm”

3:36 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Grassroots efforts will likely push a recount on an amendment to Missouri’s bill of rights that favors the interests of corporate agriculture.

Artwork of a young boy dressed as an ear of corn, carrying a Monsanto flag.

Did Missouri voters just grant constitutional rights to Monsanto & friends?

On Aug. 5, Missouri residents voted on the state’s Right-to-Farm, Amendment 1, a new addition to the state’s bill of rights. The results were extremely close: 498,751 voted in favor of the new amendment, while 496,223 opposed it. With a difference of less than half a percent, a recount is almost certain.

Though the Humane Society of the United States donated $375,000 in opposition, the amendment had the financial backing of Big Agriculture and its deep pockets as well as the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, the secretive organization which writes legislation on behalf of major corporations.

That the bill came so close to defeat is a testament to the efforts of grassroots Missouri activists like the members of People’s Visioning, a coalition of diverse progressive organizations led by Columbia, Missouri, resident Monta Welch. MintPress News spoke with Welch and other members of her coalition as they rested from what they described as an exhausting campaign and considered what their next steps might be if the recount fails.

Welch explained that the conflict was essentially between large agricultural factories and consumers increasingly concerned with the sustainability and ethics behind the food they eat.

“This amendment was really designed to preempt giving consumers what they want and preempt any possibility of addressing an unsustainable system whether it be factory farming — a confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO — or genetically modified food. There’s been a trend of customers and consumers saying they don’t want these kinds of products, but this is the ‘get bigger or get out’ style of factory farm’s response,” Welch said.

ALEC’s corporate “extremism”

For over 40 years ALEC members — corporations and wealthy backers like the Koch Brothers — have crafted model legislation which is then sponsored by the council’s specially selected legislators who are required to swear a loyalty oath to the organization. ALECexposed.org, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, features hundreds of model bills as well as lists of its corporate members, including agricultural giants Archer Daniels Midland and St. Louis-based Monsanto. Monsanto, along with Cargill — which has disputed its ALEC membership — were members of the Farmers Care PAC that formed to promote the bill.

Though all 50 states have existing legislation designed to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits, ALEC has been working to rewrite those laws to its specifications since at least 1995, when the importance of the Right to Farm Act model is mentioned in the council’s Source Book of American Legislation. That same language was incorporated into a longer model bill first voted on in 1996 and updated and re-approved by members as recently as 2013 (where it’s now openly posted on ALEC’s website).

It restricts farms from being found to be a nuisance as long as they conform to “generally accepted agriculture and management practices” as determined by state agricultural agencies. It also prevents farms from being found to be a nuisance if they adopt new technology, begin producing new products, or expand. Other clauses further complicate lawsuits by, for example, potentially forcing anyone making complaints to pay the defendant’s legal fees.

The Right to Farm model legislation is just part of ALEC’s overall support of industrial agriculture. In a memo released by Common Cause, ALEC reveals its “Agriculture Principles” and pledges to “remove barriers for agricultural production, trade, and consumption.” Further, the organization objects to “extremist attempts to establish animal rights as a public policy objective,” stating:

There are significant human costs to the animal rights movement’s attempt to destroy human exceptionalism and along with it our system of animal husbandry and tradition of pet ownership. Similar to ALEC efforts related to animal and ecological terrorism and environmentally corrupt organizations, ALEC’s principles include a commitment to transparency and honesty among these groups and their allies.

A commitment to transparency may seem surprising from an organization which shields its actions with secrecy and police violence. It might be a reference to the group’s support of so-called “Ag gag” laws that restrict the free speech of animal cruelty activists, including one which passed in Missouri in 2012 that forces activists to inform police of their efforts to gather evidence of animal cruelty.

A newer approach to the same goal is to amend state constitutions. Bloomberg Businessweek reported in January that in 2012 North Dakota became the first to amend its constitution to include the Right to Farm, and similar proposed amendments have appeared in Indiana, which will vote on it in November, and in Oklahoma, where legislators tabled the amendment until next session. In Missouri, the amendment included two sponsors who are ALEC membersTim Jones and Jason T. Smith.

Another sponsor, Bill Reiboldt, the Agriculture Policy Chair in the most recent Missouri legislative session, is known for taking donations from businesses like Smithfield Foods. Smithfield Foods is one of the nation’s largest producers of pork products, and Missouri is ranked sixth nationally in pork production.

North Dakota’s amendment specifically mentions the right to engage in “modern farming practices,” but that language was dropped due to what Businessweek calls “concerns that it appeared too narrowly aimed at benefiting industrial farms.” Despite that change, the amendment’s supporters seemed to deliberately court voter confusion about its true goals with even the amendment’s very phrasing.

Deliberately confusing voters

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#TPP Wrap-up: Secret Deals Under Fire

11:05 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For a #TPP Photo Gallery, visit Kit O’Connell’s Approximately 8,000 Words

After a weekend of protest and controversy, it’s clear that the TransPacific Partnership, the secretive and far-reaching international trade deal negotiated in Addison, Texas is under fire. The more sunshine we let in, the less attractive this deal looks to world leaders.

From a direct action perspective, the highlight of the week was the major disruption caused by Yes Lab pranksters with support from Occupy Dallas. Their efforts, which included replacing the toilet paper in the hotel with special ‘TPP’ message paper, culminated in a major infiltration and the presentation of a fake “Corporate Power Tool” award to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk:

The first action began when a smartly-dressed man approached the podium immediately after the gala’s keynote speech by Ron Kirk, U.S. Trade Representative and former mayor of Dallas. The man (local puppeteer David Goodwin) introduced himself as “Git Haversall,” president of the “Texas Corporate Power Partnership,” and announced he was giving Kirk and other U.S. trade negotiators the “2012 Corporate Power Tool Award,” which “Haversall’s” partner held aloft.

Citizens on Twitter from around the world bombarded political accounts in the US with demands to halt the deal:

@BarackObama We Japanese appreciate your kindness such as Tomodachi operation. But we are not happy with TPP! #TPP — tweet by ファーファ@座り込み (@saQra629)

On Saturday, I livetweeted and liveblogged from the TPP: Out of the Shadows rally. A collection of activists from around the country (and even a handful of international visitors) gathered in Addison Circle Park. The coalition, organized by the Texas Fair Trade Coalition, ranged from unions like the Teamsters to multiple Occupy groups like Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. I was dropped at the park around noon on a bus with about 40 occupiers and activists; I’d greatly enjoyed the quiet company of the National Nurses United contingent who were proud of their victory in the upcoming Chicago rally and Tom Morello concert. A lunch had been provided for some, but with no vegetarian options a few of us went in search of other food.

By the time I got back, the rally had grown to over 300 people. Red TPP balloons dotted the crowd, along with signs and banners. Occupy Austin had brought our banner from May Day, “Workers of the World: Occupy!” Anonymous supporters were even present among the crowd, a sign of the major push that movement has been making against the trade deal on social media. The only mainstream media I spotted were from Japan, but I didn’t catch which network they represented.

At about 2pm central time, we marched on the Intercontinental Hotel. This march had a permit; we were to remain on the sidewalk until we reached the roads immediately around the hotel. Teamsters assigned as parade marshals tried to enforce this, but occupiers led a surge into the streets some blocks ahead of schedule. We’d been told not to enter hotel property, even the parking lot, or risk arrest. Simple wooden barricades were placed at the entrance. A couple dozen cops were present, but none of the riot gear reported earlier in the week was visible, although dark suited federal police lurked around.

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