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A Constitutional Right to Industrial Farming?

States consider constitutional amendments that could shield industrial farms from lawsuits
Manure pit runoff
Manure pit runoffCourtesy of Eric Stickdorn

Article I of Indiana’s constitution begins in the usual way, spelling out the familiar rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In November, Indiana voters may be asked to decide whether to add one more to the list: the right “to engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products.”

When Republicans in the state legislature introduced a bill in 2011 to start the process of amending the constitution, many people regarded it as a joke. The senate minority leader mockingly tried to tack on a constitutional right to garden; a local political columnist called the amendment a “circus-like sideshow.” The bill’s sponsors said it was a way to keep non-farmers, including national animal rights groups, from meddling in the state’s rural interests—an update on the right-to-farm laws that protect farmers in all 50 states from being sued by people who move to rural areas from cities and then sue their new neighbors over the smell.