Agribusiness, pesticide, and timber companies have worked hard to pass laws across the country that protect corporate agriculture and industrial timber at the expense of independent farmers and rural communities. Many of these laws are framed as if they are pro-farmer, sometimes even confusing farmers themselves. State policymakers can help to shift the narrative about who really benefits from these laws and can seek to oppose or weaken them in favor of policies that will increase rural prosperity for all rather than just for agribusiness.
Curb Corporate Power: Repeal Right to Farm Laws and Stop “Ag-Gag” Laws
“Right to farm” (RTF) laws were originally established to protect existing farmers from nuisance complaints and legal action from neighbors who may have recently moved to a farming area and been unused to the sounds and smells of a working farm. But in many states, RTF has been turned on its head: these preemption laws are now used to protect new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and similar large-scale operations from opposition by existing neighbors. The strictest RTF laws tie the hands of local or county governments by preempting regulation of agriculture or forestry practices, while shielding bad actors from accountability or legal recourse. Despite pushback from rural communities and local governments around the country, RTF laws continue to be promoted and strengthened at the state level. State policymakers can champion opposition to these laws by pushing back against proposed amendments that increase their scope, while helping to shift the narrative of who these laws actually protect: agribusiness and chemical corporations.
Further, while not explicitly called RTF, agribusiness interests in some states have sought to eliminate local control over CAFO siting or other agricultural issues. In states with local control on CAFOs, a county or regional agency has authority to approve or deny a CAFO application based on local conditions. For example, Missouri county health boards long held binding authority over the siting of large CAFOs. After years of attempts by agribusiness-connected state lawmakers to weaken this local control, they passed a preemption law in 2019 prohibiting counties from imposing stricter CAFO standards than the state. Counties and municipalities best know the conditions of their local environment and if their community can sustain a large animal operation; lawmakers in states with local control authority should therefore seek to uphold this authority and resist any attempts to weaken or eliminate it.
“Ag-gag” is the nickname given to a variety of laws seeking to prevent whistleblowers from exposing inhumane animal treatment. Supporters say they protect farmers from bad press, but these laws are promoted by agribusiness interests seeking to avoid scrutiny of animal welfare in CAFOs. More than 20 states have proposed some form of ag-gag law, and six states have approved one. The laws range from outlawing unapproved photos to requiring that inhumane animal treatment be reported immediately (which prevents gathering evidence for prosecution) to criminalizing taking a job under false pretenses (some whistleblowers do this to collect evidence). Newer iterations of these laws have included provisions to criminalize whistleblowers at elder care facilities, veterans facilities, hospitals, and schools. Courts have struck down several of these laws as unconstitutional. State policymakers can champion transparency in the food supply chain and be vocal opponents of these and other laws that effectively conceal elements of the food supply chain from the public.
- State: Repeal right to farm laws.
- State: Stop “ag-gag” laws.
- While a handful of states have successfully passed so-called “ag gag” laws, judges in North Carolina, Kansas, Idaho and Utah, have ruled the laws unconstitutional.