When Oklahomans hear “right to farm,” we immediately think of family farms and generational growers of chickens, cows and crops. The three words undeniably elicit emotion tied to our pioneering spirit, heartland traditions and our deeply held democratic convictions about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
That’s exactly why multi-national corporations behind State Question 777 have hijacked the phrase. They know few of us would ever argue that farmers shouldn’t have the right to farm. They also know on Election Day this November, if Oklahoma voters understand what this state question is really about, they will reject it. They fear Oklahoma voters will see it for what it is: one of the worst state questions ever to be presented to Oklahoma voters.
But why, you may be asking, am I writing about all of this—and to readers of TulsaPets?
Simply put, I want to offer you some insight into the real implications of this state question, which protects corporations and leaves people, and animals, powerless.
Puppy Mills and Cockfighting
If passed, SQ777 could be the first dangerous step in rolling back state regulations on puppy mill operations and cockfighting. Under the law, those who participate in these inhumane practices could be identified as “farmers” and their animals as “livestock,” propping the door open for them to operate without scrutiny in Oklahoma. In fact, language in the state question allows virtually anyone to identify as a farmer if their activities have anything to do with animals; it essentially allows them to do whatever they want with the animals on their property, even if their practices would be considered inhumane by most Oklahomans’ standards or cause a nuisance or even damage to other landowners.
Responsible pet owners have a stake in ensuring our state is unfriendly to puppy mills and cockfighting. Puppy mills are massive breeding operations where the bottom line, not animal welfare, is the priority. Females are typically allowed no recovery time between litters. Neglect, illness, genetic defects and mistreatment of the animals are rampant. Animals are caged 24/7, and some live their entire lives without ever touching grass. Dogs are often debarked by ramming a steel rod down their throats to rupture their vocal cords. Nutrition is so poor animals lose their teeth at an early age from tooth decay and are often emaciated.
Cockfighting involves two roosters wearing blades on their feet and fighting to the death while human spectators place bets on the outcome. Gambling and illegal drugs are common at cockfighting events.
Because the language in SQ777 would allow puppy mill and cockfighting breeders to define themselves as “farmers,” there is little state and local governments could do to enact safeguards against such practices, even though Oklahomans have been clear they don’t want such operations in our state.
But we aren’t just talking about puppy mills and cockfighting. For example, if SQ777 passes, your next-door neighbors could choose to breed exotic snakes on a large scale. The same could be said for insects or exotic animals of all species. Cities like Tulsa could pass no new laws to regulate activity concerning animals, so complaining to your city council wouldn’t do any good. The State of Oklahoma couldn’t intervene either because SQ777 requires proof of a “compelling state interest” before anything could be done to stop activity involving animals, no matter how dangerous or damaging. Want to make a full-fledged snake pit of your backyard swimming pool? SQ777 is just the ticket. Don’t want to live next door to said snake pit? Then you’d better vote no.
Foreign Ownership, No Local Control
The deep pockets behind SQ777 are not lobbying hard for the proposal because their main interest is puppy mills and cockfighting. They are more focused on ensuring multinational corporations are able to use land and natural resources with no government oversight. TheAnimal Loversy also seek to use growth hormones, pesticides and fertilizer with no state or local oversight, despite the impact the chemicals can have on local water supplies.
Just as alarming, SQ777 benefits foreign companies more than family farmers. It may surprise you to know that in America, one in four pigs is owned by Chinese-owned corporations. And there’s a vast difference between how an American family farm operates and how a Chinese farm operates in this country. Family farmers have been on their land for generations. They plan to stay, and they take care of their land accordingly. They take pride in their work, and they honor their ancestors by caring for their land and their animals.
Chinese-owned farms are a different case completely. Their goal is to breed animals and make money, pure and simple. They do that by putting as many animals as possible on their ever-growing plot of American land. They want to turn over their “crop” quickly, and they cut corners to make that happen. Waste is laid to the land. The waterways that surround them are disregarded as chemicals, fecal matter and carcasses pile up.
If you have the misfortune of living next to one of these operations, you know the smell. If your family farm is in the shadow of one of these foreign-owned farms, you may soon be swallowed up—generations of hard work and cultivation of your land undone by companies whose owners do not live here and do not care about us.
State Question 777 grants foreign corporations the power to use Oklahoma land for any “farming” purpose they deem profitable. The law will also stop the Legislature and local communities from passing laws or ordinances after November 2016 to address any water and air pollution caused by factory farms, harm to other farmers’ and residents’ land not withstanding.
Giving free rein to multi-national factory farming in Oklahoma and minimizing state and local government’s ability to provide any oversight is what the pro-SQ777 coalition is really after.
The ALEC Link
Most Oklahomans have no idea what ALEC is, but you should. The acronym stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC includes many individual members who are lawmakers from across the country. Yet, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, 98 percent of ALEC’s funding comes from corporations seeking to use the organization as the medium for enacting state laws favorable to their particular business and industry.
The wording of SQ777 has been copied and pasted from a measure that was written by ALEC and its corporate members. They have been successful in getting SQ777 measures enacted in two other states: North Dakota and Missouri.
ALEC isn’t only involved in agriculture; they are also proponents of corporate education, and they have been widely credited with crafting legislation that is crippling public education in Oklahoma and across the country.
The common tie between ALEC’s interest in education and agriculture? Big corporations.
The Oklahoma Stewardship Council, of which I am chair, has brought together a broad coalition to help fight SQ777. From the Five Civilized Tribes, to the Humane Society of the United States, and to such groups as Save the Illinois River and many others, we are working to protect Oklahoma’s water and natural resources and maintain Oklahomans’ right to determine animal welfare standards— not foreign corporations. Our list of #VoteNoOn777 partners continues to grow every day.
As of this writing, the list of organizations standing against SQ777 includes Save the Illinois River, Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes, Oklahoma Municipal League, League of Women Voters, Conservation Coalition of Oklahoma, Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Bella Foundation, Oklahomans for Food, Farm and Family, Oklahoma Food Cooperative, Sierra Club, Oklahoma Welfare League, Oklahoma Alliance for Animals and Oklahoma Coalition of Animal Rescuers.
Our work is cut out for us. The other side will spare no expense to convince Oklahomans to surrender their rights. Their message will be designed to mislead the public under the guise of “right to farm.” Politicians seeking election/reelection in 2016, or eyeing statewide offices in 2018, have—or likely will—accept campaign donations from the pro-SQ777 lobby.
All Oklahomans who believe in animal welfare, who believe that we must protect our water and natural resources, and who believe that we should have some oversight of those contributing to our food supply must get engaged in this issue.
In the coming months, be on the lookout for pro-SQ777 scare tactics and name-calling. For instance, if you hear that SQ777 is needed to help protect family farms from bureaucracy, or that it’s critical to reducing hunger in Oklahoma, don’t be fooled. It is a smokescreen. Family farms won’t be helped by this state question because it’s about factory farming.
Hunger won’t be addressed by SQ777 either. Factory farms use our farmland for profit. They sell and ship their goods where they get the most profit for their investment. Moreover, the Chinese are using American farmland to increase the food supply back home, where usable farmland is dwarfed in comparison to the size and needs of their population.
Common Sense, Not Corporations
I’m just like most Oklahomans; I love my state and its heritage. I have a deep respect for those who work the land and take a common sense approach to livestock, crops and natural resources.
For economic stability, we must have a balance between agriculture, commerce, environmental protection and animal welfare.
We’ve been working on achieving that balance in Oklahoma. Holding factory farms accountable for water pollution, encouraging sustainable farming science, making cockfighting illegal and closing down puppy mills have all been a part of achieving balance.
The corporations backing SQ777 would like us to reverse all that, to strike our state off balance and to tip the scales in their favor—permanently—by changing our state constitution. We must tell them no and reject any attempt by special interests to determine the future of Oklahoma’s water, land and animals.
The stakes are high, and I hope you will consider joining us in this fight.
Drew Edmondson, Former Oklahoma Attorney General