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Right to Farm or Right to Harm?

PHOTO: Stopping a right to farm bill in Kentucky, which would have placed protections in the state Constitution, is a victory, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
PHOTO: Stopping a right to farm bill in Kentucky, which would have placed protections in the state Constitution, is a victory, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Photo by Greg Stotelmyer.
April 3, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. - A controversial "right to farm" bill died with last week's end of the 2015 session of the Kentucky General Assembly, but the pros and cons of the legislation still are being argued - and the bill's sponsor says it will not go away.

Sen. Robin Webb, D-Grayson, said her bill, Senate Bill 57, which would have placed right-to-farm protections in the state's Constitution, is a way to protect a big part of the state's economy. However, the Humane Society of the United States labeled it a right to harm, claiming that, if passed, the bill would have prohibited efforts to curtail animal abuse, food-safety issues and industrial agriculture.

Matt Dominguez, the Humane Society's public-policy manager, said the bill would have shielded the worst practices on factory farms from the democratic process.

"What you see is the industry desperately trying to keep people in the dark about animal abuse on these farms, and the public and legislators have been standing up and winning over and over again," he said. "It's time for the agriculture industry to pull their head out of the sand and see that there should be more transparency in their industry, not darkness."

The bill, which died without a vote in committee, proposed a constitutional amendment barring the Legislature from passing any law that "unreasonably abridges the right of citizens ... to engage fully in the practice of farming, now and in the future."

Webb said the Humane Society's labeling of her bill as a right to harm is disingenuous rhetoric.

"The language that I had was not extreme language," she said. "My measure is to make sure that individuals can feed themselves and sustain their families, whether it's your backyard beekeeper or fresh eggs for your family or fresh milk."

Webb defended factory farms as part of a North American agriculture model that, in her words, is very efficient. She said right-to-farm protections would be subject to accepted animal-welfare practices.

However, the Humane Society's newest report card on animal protection laws ranks Kentucky 43rd, which Dominguez said is shameful.

"Kentucky can do better," he said, "and the animals in Kentucky deserve better."

Webb dismissed that criticism.

"The Humane Society of the United States, their agenda is not to protect animals," she said. "Their agenda is to eliminate the utilization and ownership of animals."

Webb said she doesn't look at the death of her bill as a defeat because the debate over constitutional protections for agriculture will continue.

SB 57 is online at lrc.ky.gov.

Greg Stotelmyer , Public News Service - KY