Freedom to farm

As described in this New York Times article, Missourians are set to vote on a statewide constitutional amendment to "guarantee the right to 'engage in farming and ranching practices'.”

The amendment is supported by several farm groups in the state, and it comes about in response to initiatives in other states that have (or have tried to) outlaw certain animal production practices such as gestation crates for sows and battery cages for hens or to restrict use of genetically engineered crops.  

I'm not sure what to think about these sorts of amendments (a similar law was passed in North Dakota, and if this one in Missouri passes, I suspect we'll see similar propositions in other states).

On the one had, I see the supporters of the law trying to prevent the "unfunded mandates" that have occurred in other states: voters passing laws that shoppers are not fully willing to pay for via premiums in the marketplace.  On the other hand, the text of the law is vague and it is difficult to foretell what will be the consequences, intended and unintended alike.  

The amendment seems to enshrine a type of protectionism that is unlikely helpful for the economy.  Imagine an amendment to protect university professor's right to "engage in teaching and research practices" or an amendment 100 years ago to protect wagon wheel makers right to make wagon wheels.  It's hard to imagine those propositions gaining much support.  They - like the one aimed at farming - seem to violate of Kant's categorical imperative insofar as the rules attempt to set a different standard for farmers or professors or wagon wheel makers than for other workers or business owners.

This quote from a farmer in the NYT story reflects that sentiment:

“One thing’s for sure — it’s going to put ag culture above everybody else,” he said. “We’re going to be a different class of people. You won’t be able to complain about anything that we do. That should never be the case.”

That said, the attempt to paint this as a battle between "family farms" and "factory farms" is largely misplaced.  As if small family farmers don't like technology.  For example, here's one quote from Joe Maxwell, who works for who works for the Humane Society

“There are now two kinds of agriculture in America — we have seen over the last 30 years the advancement of the industrialized ag model,” Mr. Maxwell said. “The group of farmers who are aligned with industrialized ag believe big is better and they should be able to do whatever they want to the land and to the animals. Then there are a group of farmers who believe we are the caretakers of the land. I stand with many family farmers who are in opposition to this.”

There are many more kinds of agriculture than two.  Many family farmers are large; many use technology precisely because they want to take care of their land and animals.