DON'T FALL FOR THE "RIGHT TO HARM" SLUR
If you live in a state that has passed or has considered a Right to Farm amendment, then you’ve likely heard this phrase from its opponents – “The Right to Harm”.
What does that term mean? How is it applied to conversations on giving state constitutional protections to citizens? And why do anti-agriculture activists think it’s so clever?
To answer these inquiries, we’ll start with the last question and work our way back.
“Right to Harm” is a weapon in the arsenal of animal rights activists, and it is an easy one at that. Thrown together with phrases like “factory farms” or “agriculture corporations”, it is a cheap tactic used to associate farmers and ranchers with a sinister motive. By labeling agriculture as “Big Business”, opponents can make the argument that farmers and ranchers are only interested in profit, at the peril of human, animal, or environmental safety.
It is so readily used because of the general lack of having to support the argument with facts. It preys on the fears of the general public.
Those health and safety concerns include fallacies that antibiotics, pesticides, and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are all bad for our health and by including them in the growth and development of our food, farmers and ranchers are putting us at risk.
This couldn’t be more wrong. Antibiotics are essential in treating sickness in animals; while pesticides and GMOs allow for a healthier and more abundant food supply. Consult with the dozens of medical and scientific communities who overwhelmingly support their usage.
Right to Farm opponents want us to believe the lie that modern agriculture is bad for us and they falsely claim constitutional protections for farming and ranching will lead to great use, and abuse, of the techniques they oppose.
As usual, they’re wrong on all counts.
Conversation in the States
Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is already trying to band Oklahoma’s State Question 777 (Right to Farm Amendment) as the “Right To Harm”. They want to scare voters into opposing the much-needed amendment.
In case you were wondering what the Amendment’s language specifically states:
“To protect agriculture as a vital sector of Oklahoma's economy, which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security and is the foundation and stabilizing force of Oklahoma's economy, the rights of citizens and lawful residents of Oklahoma to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. 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.”
As you can see, the Right to Farm Amendment would prevent the Oklahoma legislature from passing any law which impedes agricultural technology or livestock production “without a compelling state interest”, meaning that the state can still act in order to protect the health and safety of the public.
Let’s read further on the Amendment:
“Nothing in this section shall be construed to modify any provision of common law or statutes relating to trespass, eminent domain, dominance of mineral interests, easements, rights of way or any other property rights. Nothing in this section shall be construed to modify or affect any statute or ordinance enacted by the Legislature or any political subdivision prior to December 31, 2014.”
This means that no law passed before 2015 will be impacted by the amendment. The worry among many Right to Farm opponents has been that it will give free reign to farmers and ranchers to abuse animals and the environment. HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle, in a post written on his organization’s website in April 2015, bemoaned Right to Farm amendments, claiming that farmers and ranchers want to prevent certain future legislative actions.
From ‘In Oklahoma, A Right to Harm?’ - April 2015:
“This means no legislation to restrict extreme confinement of animals, no bans on mutilating farm animals, no restrictions on massive farms polluting ground water or dropping property values by creating a stench, no state limits on the drugs or antibiotics they can dose animals with.”
Pacelle demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the bill’s core language. That, or he does understand and simply wants to confuse voters on the matter, which is where the “Right to Harm” term comes into play.
Another grasping argument that HSUS and its allies will make in the debate is that this amendment protects foreign corporations. This was a popular argument HSUS used in Missouri in the lead up to the Right to Farm Amendment (Amendment 1) vote in November 2014.
Oklahoma State Question 777’s language was clearly crafted to protect only the rights of individual Oklahomans. SQ 777 does nothing for corporations, domestic OR foreign.
So given this explanation, we ask again: what does “Right to Harm” actually mean?
Frankly, we cannot answer the question. That’s because “Right to Harm” doesn’t exist.
The goal of the Right to Farm Amendment is simple: preserving the rights of Oklahomans to raise and grow their own food, while protecting family farmers from attacks by radical groups and out-of-control politicians.
Good luck attempting to tell Wayne Pacelle that, however. His ears may be clogged by the piles of money he’s raking in from confused donors who thought they’d be helping shelter animals but are instead seeing their money used to fight reasonable legislation like this.