Economy, Energy, Natural Resources: Policy to People

Oklahoma Right-to-Farm Legislation About More Than Agricultural Practices

Attendees listen as former Missouri state senator Wes Shoemeyer speaks against Amendment 1 at the Missouri’s Food for America sign-making event at Café Berlin Friday, June 27, 2014 in Columbia, Missouri.

KOMUnews / flickr

Attendees listen as former Missouri state senator Wes Shoemeyer speaks against Amendment 1 at the Missouri’s Food for America sign-making event at Café Berlin Friday, June 27, 2014 in Columbia, Missouri.

Oklahoma voters have at least a year before seeing ads for and against state questions on the ballot in November 2016. But you might want to get used to hearing this phrase now: right-to-farm.

It’s a divisive national issue that’s made its way to the Sooner State, one that puts agriculture at odds with environmentalists and animal rights advocates.

In Missouri, it was a fight between two sides that loathe each other. The right-to-farm amendment narrowly passed there in 2014, and not until after a recount. Part of Missouri’s constitution now reads like this: “The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state.”

That sounds innocent, but the language is broad. There is plenty of room for allegations like the one suggested by former Missouri lawmaker Wes Shoemyer.

“There will be challenges of anything you can think of in the court system,” Shoemyer says. “Whether folks in the middle of the cities, say they’ve got a little patch of ground and decide they want to farm. Can they raise hogs and cattle right in their own backyard?”

Now Shoemyer works with the Humane Society of the United States, a main funder of the right-to-farm opposition in Missouri, and enemy of Farm Bureaus across the country who’ve pushed similar amendments in Indiana, North Dakota, and here in Oklahoma.

Next stop, Oklahoma

A bill proposed by Rep. Scott Biggs, R-Chickasha, would, if passed by voters, change Oklahoma’s constitution to say something very similar to Missouri’s. It adds: “The legislature shall pass no law that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.”

John Collison with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau questions why the Humane Society is so concerned about agriculture. He says farmers are can be trusted to protect animals and the environment.

“We’re the ones that raise millions and millions of animals every single day, and take care of them,” he says. “They’re our livelihood. We’re not going to treat our business badly.”

But Cynthia Armstrong with the Oklahoma chapter of the Humane Society says many farmers resist animal-related regulations because they’re doing “the bidding of corporate agriculture.”

“They want to do business the way they want to do it, without regard to environmental concerns, animal welfare,” she says. “They don’t want any of that getting in their way.”

Agriculture isn’t all

Humane Society accuses Farm Bureau of being in the pocket of big ag. Farm Bureau, for its part, says it’s obligated to protect farmers from Humane Society-backed anti-GMO laws and chicken-caging regulations, like ones on the books in California and Oregon.

But the right-to-farm fight in Oklahoma is about more than agricultural practices. Rep. Biggs didn’t respond to StateImpact’s interview requests, but said as much when presenting House Joint Resolution 1012 in committee.

“Unfortunately we have an outside who has seen fit to kind of attack agriculture here in Oklahoma, go as far as to sue the attorney general who’s looking to protect us, to stop him from doing some of his actions,” Biggs told the House Rules Committee.

He’s referring to a lawsuit Humane Society filed against Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, accusing him of harassment. Pruitt is investigating the Humane Society over fundraising allegations stemming from the 2013 Moore tornado, an ongoing court battle unrelated to farmers’ rights that seems to have fueled some of the animosity between both sides.

Complicating matters is the fact that Oklahoma already has a right-to-farm law on the books, which outlaws so-called nuisance lawsuits against farmers and ranchers from nearby residents over issues like noise, odors and pollution. All 50 states have some form of right-to-farm law, and the American Legislative Exchange Council — better known as ALEC — has been working to strengthen them.

But statutes are easy to change. The State Constitution isn’t. Donnie Condit, D-McAlester, was the only ‘no’ vote on Oklahoma’s right-to-farm amendment proposal when it was heard in committee.

“Forever’s a long time,” Condit says. “Ten, 15 years from now, if we vote this in and the Legislature comes up with a crisis with agriculture, their hands are tied.”

Condit says he’s received hundreds of emails urging him to vote “no.”

“I don’t know if I got any to say vote yes,” he says.

From Farm to Constitution

StateImpact asked a few Oklahoma farmers about what they think of right-to-farm, and couldn’t find any that were even aware of the issue — or the bill.

It’s not clear what a right-to-farm amendment would mean for Oklahoma, but North Dakota in 2012 became the first state to amend its constitution to include one. North Dakota State University Agricultural law professor David Saxowsky says that in the three years since it was added, the right-to-farm amendment has yet to be challenged.

“I don’t think anybody was on the verge of introducing any laws that would be struck down by this amendment,” he says.

Clarification: The audio version of this story says Wes Shoemyer now works for the Humane Society of the U.S. Actually, he serves on HSUS’ Missouri Agriculture Council, an unpaid position. A more correct statement would be that Shoemyer works WITH the Humane Society of the U.S. We apologize for any confusion.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership among Oklahoma’s public radio stations and relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.


  • KaD

    What most people don’t know about the ‘Humane Society’ is they have the same radical animal rights agenda as PETA-NO human animal interaction whatsoever is their goal. No meat, no fur or leather, no pets. The HSUS operates NO shelters, contributes only 1% of the donations to shelters, has hedge funds outside the US, and their president admitted he ‘doesn’t even like animals’. http://www.humanewatch.org http://www.petakillsanimals.com

    • terryward


    • Janice Waltzer Curtis

      Where do you get your brain washed?

    • James Atkinson

      That you would cite the above two links indicates you need to educate yourself more about this issue. Both those sources are front groups to corporate lobbying, humane watch is Berman propaganda- just google and find out. HSUS is not supposed to give money to shelters. That is not their mission. They never say they do-again, look it up. Pruitt got sued because he is harassing HSUS. He took phony Berman propaganda (the ridiculous survey you cited) and used it as the basis of a state invrstgation-outrageous abuse of state police power. Again, look it it up-I did. I went to downtown and pulled the legal brief Pruitt used tax dollars to hire a law firm to write. You need to check this stuff out better.

    • James Atkinson

      Here yo go, KaD. I hope the link works. Can you believe Oklahoma’s AG similarly abused the power of his office and wasted tax dollars with his special interest vendetta:


  • ricky

    Farmers raise animals to make a living. Activists raise money by attacking the farmers. It doesn’t matter how the farmer does his work the activist will always contend that is never enough

    • Janice Waltzer Curtis

      Asinine. People should care about the treatment of animals on farms. Maybe you think it is great when ranchers starve and abuse their chickens, hogs, cattle or horses? Happens ALL the time in Oklahoma and it is possible the constitutional change will give them the right to do anything they want to do with no legal consequences. Nothing like red morons voting to put corporate written laws in state constitutions. ALEC has run Oklahoma since the reds took over control of the state.

    • James Atkinson

      How can you call an industrial animal confinement operation so polluted that 1,000 of the hogs die of poison gas farming? See:

      Over 1,000 Hogs Die in Confinement Pit Gas Accident Near Tracy
      Posted: Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015 at 11:54 am
      Author: KNIA/KRLS News – Dr. Bob Leonard
      Print Version

      HSUS is not against farming; it is against that. Smith Farm is the worlds largest hog producer. Do you know what country is the majority owner? The Chinese, run by the Communists. That is who you are sacrificing your clean air and water for to do this “farming.” If you do not think it is immoral to lock up animals so they cannot move their entire life and are poisoned by their own waste; if you think it is okay to pass a law (Iowa ag-gag) to cover it up and hide it because you know the public will not stand for it when they find out (I guess forget about free speech); then maybe you will care you are doing for a company Wall Street sold to China because they have so destroyed their own land, air, and water they are coming after rural America’s. Wake up, people. Educate yourselves by following the money. Scott Pruitt AG of Oklahoma is for sale to the highest bidder. He is a disgrace to the state.

  • laurelladesborough

    The Oklahoma Right to Farm Act is an important idea that needs to be put in place to protect farmers and ranchers from the ongoing assault of the animal rights organizations who are working to eliminate animal agriculture. They have no shame in stating this is the case. So, I hope that all animal owners and breeders and members of the public will support this legislation. It is needed. What we don’t need in the US is efforts by the animal rights orgs to put in place regulations that do not help the animals or the animal owners and breeders. This law will help protect animal agriculture.

    • James Atkinson

      Your post is completely misguided. Anyone who has any sense of decency understands factory animal production is most definitely NOT farming. Family farms in the traditional sense (clean water and air and open space in rural areas) cannot compete with these industrial animal gulags so true ranchers and farmers are hurting themselves supporting this corporate-backed initiative in Oklahoma. Ask yourselves this: why should agriculture get special treatment in the state constitution no other industry or business receives? What is that all about, huh? The fact this industry is doing something so controversial it thinks it justifies a constitutional ammendment ought to send up red flags to thinking voters. We all have to eat and taxpayers give billions in subsidies to corporate agriculture annually but apparently that is not enough so we prohibit free speech with ag gag laws and ammend the constitution with right to “farm?” People who think for themselves wonder what is going on here.

      • laurelladesborough

        Maybe you need to do more research about farming pracitices and about farms. I come from a farm background and am familiar with many normal animal husbandry practices that are just fine. This idea that the Right to Farm Act is about protecting big ag is one of the selling points of the radical animal rights agenda. You are either an animal rights advocate OR you are misinformed about this law. When the HSUS has spokesmen who openly have stated that they are working to eliminate animal agriculture, that should be a wake up call. Now, in California, HSUS managed to get some of their “ideas” put into laws. Result: Cargill, one of the largest poultry farmers has moved their operation to China. Now, if you think those Chinese workers are going to treat poultry better than US farmers, you are probably smoking something! These animal rights laws have ONE purpose: to eventually eliminate the use of animals. Period. They know they cannot do it quickly, so they do it incrementally, with lots of propaganda along the way, including editing videos, placing spies on farms, etc. This is a total invasion of the privacy of the farmer and rancher. Next they will be sending drones over ranches, which hopefully will get shot down!

        • James Atkinson

          I worked on a farms in Idaho from 4th grade on moving irrigation pipe, cleaning animal pens, hoeing beets, picking rocks off spud diggers, driving swathers, bucking bales, etc. None of what you wrote is correct nor makes logical sense. I have never once heard or read anything from the HSUS about ending animal agriculture. Please provide the source for your claim. Tens of millions of California voters passed state ballot initiatives outlawing a few of the most egregious factory farming practices despite massive spending by corporate agriculture in opposition. Californians made these changes; not the HSUS. What you say about Cargill does not make sense. Since when are eggs shipped from China to the United States? California produces more agricultural products than any other state. Of the ten most productive agricultural counties in the United States, 10 are in California. The San Joaquin Valley is the single riches agricultural region in the world. Do you really think Cargill could abandon this market? If the HSUS is destroying California agriculture, how come it produces about twice the output of second largest producer which I believe is Texas? The abdominal treatment of animals in factory farms has been documented from myriad independent sources and opposed by veterinarians writing in professional journals. What you are defending as “animal husbandry” is no such thing: it is horrific industrial-scale cruelty that no one has a right of privacy to engage in. If this is just traditional farming and ranching practiced for hundreds of years, why the need for ag-gag laws and a special set-aside in the state constitution? These practices are against the law in Europe; Why would the HSUS or anyone else for that matter want to fly drones over thousands of acres of sparsely populated rural land? I hope you will do some investigating besides believing what the Farm Bureau tells you.

          • Jenna Rose Anderson

            Just want to say thanks to James for providing such informed answers. I went to OU Law and am a small ag supporter – I could not have said any of this better myself. Thanks James!

      • Herbert Tennyson

        You are not an Oklahoman or you would know how stupid your argument sounds.

  • Harlan

    The global corporations behind this amendment — Tyson, Cargill, Monsanto, Smithfield, JBS — are afraid of democracy, they decimated rural Oklahoma economies and put independent farmers and ranchers out of business.

  • Jenna Rose Anderson

    For what it’s worth, I want to express support for the anti-777 crowd. I think the fact that these laws have already been passed in a few states is an indication that there is a large, corporate entity involved. This just can’t be described as some sort of grass-roots movement by small Oklahoma farms seeking protection from the state of Oklahoma, although that’s what their website would lead you to believe. I don’t support large corporate farms and these laws seem to be in their best interest alone. Also and perhaps most dangerously, I think this would disadvantage the farmers that insist on treating their animals and their land with honesty and integrity, because they will be forced to compete in a market full of farmers (both big and small) that do not have the same commitment to good stewardship.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »