Friday, May 15, 2015

Right to Food, Right to Farm

Last summer, Missouri voters narrowly approved a right to farm amendment to the Missouri Constitution. It appears that the supporters' expectation is that the amendment will ban the state from putting any environmental, animal welfare, health, etc. (read: costly) restrictions on their farming practices. While the actual effect of the amendment is still unclear, supporters spent over $1 million dollars toward the passage of the right to farm. Having freedom to farm is all well and good, but what good is a right to farm without the demand for farm products?

The upturn in U.S. agriculture correlates not with any recognition of a right to farm, but rather with an international recognition of the right to food. The combination of World War I and the great depression saw a large downturn in U.S. agriculture and the subsequent creation of federal farm subsidies. On the one hand, the federal farm subsidies helped U.S. farmers continue to farm. On the other hand, these farmers were running out of buyers for their crops.

Recognizing farmers' needs for a market for their surplus crops, President Franklin D. Roosevelt included exports of surplus goods as part of his rationale for requesting funds for the war effort. In fact, on January 6, 1941, during the height of World War II, Roosevelt presented his "Four Freedoms" speech during his annual address to Congress. The Four Freedoms speech is most often remembered for Roosevelt's declaration of the four freedoms essential to a secure world - the freedom of speech and expression, the freedom of worship, the freedom from fear, and the freedom from want.

In short time, Roosevelt's altruistic-sounding freedom from want took a more formal turn toward trade. In the Atlantic Charter, the U.S. and the United Kingdom jointly declared "certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on why they base their hopes for a better future for the world." Those principles included freedom from want...and commitment to trade. Less than one month later, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture called from increased agricultural production to meet international food needs. The agricultural up-tick that coincided with Roosevelt's declaration of freedom from want was just beginning.

In 1942, several countries signed onto the Declaration on the United Nations: a document substantively similar to The Atlantic Charter. In 1945, 50 countries came together to draft the United Nations Charter and to commit to, among other things, promoting fundamental freedoms. That same year, what is now known as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was created. And, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights officially recognized Roosevelt's freedom from want as including a right to food.

And what was happening in U.S. agriculture? According to USDA data, the period between 1945 and 1948 started the most distinctive increase in U.S. agricultural production. U.S. agricultural exports grew dramatically beginning during that period. While the overall number of farms started to decline, the overall number of acres per farm began a steady increase, as did the overall production of U.S. farms. In other words, international recognition of a freedom from want that included a right to food coincided with the notable rise in U.S. agriculture, a rise that continues even today.

So why then was so much money spent by supporters of the Missouri Right to Farm amendment? By analogy, that is like criminal defense attorneys in the 1960s spending money to advocate for a "right to be a criminal defense attorney" rather than advocating for the, ultimately successful, "right to counsel" in criminal cases. It is completely counter-intuitive. Maybe then farm supporters should learn a lesson from history and start lobbying their states for a right to food amendment.


Anna Dey is a candidate in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural and Food Law at the University of Arkansas. She received her J.D. from the Seattle University School of Law and B.A. from Cornell University. Anna is originally from rural Iowa, where she is also admitted to practice law. She will be returning to Iowa later this summer.


Blogger Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Spot-on post. Thank you.

5/15/2015 2:32 PM  
Anonymous Not That Kind Of Farmer said...

Great article with excellent idea! I appreciate your post. Thanks so much and let keep on sharing your stuffs keep it up.

5/28/2015 2:27 PM  

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