On November the 8th Oklahomans will be voting on State Question 777, a proposed constitutional amendment, the so-called Right to Farm. Promoters of SQ 777 suggest that this amendment will further protect Oklahoma’s family farmers and ranchers from unreasonable government interference and attacks by out-of- state special interests. The groundswell of opposition believes the amendment would forever harm our land, weaken our state’s traditional agricultural standards, and remove our ability to protect our land, our animals, and our environment.
The language of the proposed amendment is as follows:
“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 farmers and ranchers 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 farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.”
This language is vague and ambiguous. It basically says anything goes as long as you are a farmer or rancher. For the record, I am a small farmer and rancher in Tulsa County. I advocate strongly for our agriculture industry and support our farmers and ranchers in Oklahoma. I also advocate for food security and affordable, healthy options. This amendment is not good for Oklahoman’s. I oppose State Question 777 and here’s why.
Second, the proposed amendment provides for an entire industry to go unregulated forever. There is a purpose and a place for regulations; to protect our water and land, our property rights, our workers, and the animals and crops we raise for food. No other industry operates in a regulation free environment. We can’t predict what is going to happen over the next 10 years and beyond.
Climate change and extreme weather increasingly threaten our water and our lands, and unregulated agricultural practices will only make it worse; and we won’t be able to do anything about it. Chemicals and pesticides could be used without oversight and kill our pollinators.
Animal and chemical waste runoff could contaminate our water supply, our streams and rivers and other natural resources. Future technology that could be harmful to our environment and our citizens would go unchecked. My biggest concern is not with our farmers and ranchers today. If passed, this amendment could attract more foreign investors and larger corporate farms to Oklahoma to operate as they please because there is no regulation.
China already owns over 385,000 acres in Oklahoma according to the Kilpatrick Foundation. Without the right to regulate, profit-driven interests can sacrifice sound agricultural practices and put us all at risk. We need to be able to react with laws and regulations as new threats emerge.
Third, and perhaps the most concerning part of the amendment language is the “State’s compelling interest.” It means the decision whether something is bad for the citizens of Oklahoma is out of their hands. It means the courts will define what is and what is not a compelling interest. The only winners will be the attorneys. Protecting an entire industry in the constitution in essence provides a free pass without oversight from citizens or their elected representatives.
The lawsuits likely to be created by this amendment will only exacerbate a state budget already in crisis. Our education system is broken. Essential services are being cut to the bone. We cannot afford more lawsuits due to poorly conceived legislation. The tremendous legal and financial resources of industrial agriculture, its lobbying power and political donations are such that small agriculture and state government cannot possibly compete.
Finally, local control over zoning and property rights will be at risk. Passage of the question would supersede land use planning and zoning regulations. It would limit the ability of cities to protect the health and welfare of its citizens.
The Illinois River is one example of a precious resource adversely affected by pollution and poor agricultural practices. The waste coming from poultry farms in Arkansas resulted in extreme phosphorous levels in the river. Phosphorous and other nutrients encourage algae growth, which in turn degrades water quality and reduces dissolved oxygen needed by fish and other life forms. Droughts and flooding carry runoff pollutants into our waterways, threatening the environment. Under the proposed amendment, if cities attempt to enact ordinances to protect their water supply, they could be in court for years, incurring tremendous legal costs.
Unintended consequences of this vague amendment are too serious to allow the passage of State Question 777. We already have the right to farm and the majority do so using good agricultural practices. However, I am concerned that this amendment will cause lasting damage to Oklahoma agriculture and its citizens. The residents of Oklahoma should have the right to pass regulations protecting our water supplies, our natural resources, our property rights, our workers, and our food supply.
I urge you to vote NO on State Question 777.