Town Hall meeting focused on threats to agriculture

Monday, October 17, 2011
A large crowd attended an agriculture town hall meeting at Martin Community Center in Marshall on Wednesday, Oct. 26. After hearing from legislators, audience members asked questions and made comments regarding threats to agriculture.

Standing together as an industry and getting the word out about threats to agriculture was the main theme of an town hall meeting held on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at the Martin Community Center in Marshall.

Approximately 100 people from as far away as Lebanon, attended the meeting which was sponsored by Missouri Farmers Care and the Santa Fe Agri-Leaders.

"We've got to take some steps to protect the agriculture industry," said state legislator Joe Aull (D-Marshall). "Agriculture is rural Missouri. We all love to live in rural Missouri. It's more than just a job, a profession; it's a way of life."

Dan Kleinsorge of Missouri Farmers Care was the emcee of the meeting and local state senator Bill Stouffer R-Napton gave a Powerpoint presentation about the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Aull and legislator Caleb Jones, R-California also spoke.

In 2010, HSUS spent over $2 million promoting Prop B, also known as the "Puppy Mill Initiative." The proposition passed by only 60,000 votes, being soundly defeated in most rural counties.

However, according to Stouffer and Aull, the way the initiative was worded would have had unintended consequences, including putting 1,400 legitimate dog breeders out of business.

"I don't think there is a breeder in the state that could have survived under Prop B. It was a direct attack on folks that were doing the right things and handling their animals right," said Stouffer.

After a compromise agreed upon by the Missouri Humane Society, Gov. Jay Nixon and other interested groups, the legislature approved an amended initiative.

"I think we came up with a really workable solution," said Stouffer, adding that even initial detractors have changed their minds about the new law. He said the new law now puts the "target" on unlicensed breeders and provides money for enforcement.

"We spent a lot of time this past winter trying to revise Proposition B," said Aull, adding he doesn't like changing what people voted in. "We tried to revise it so it ended up being what people thought voted for."

However, HSUS did not approve the compromise.

"This case in Missouri is the first time HSUS has ever lost," said Stouffer. "This is an organization that takes in about $135 to $150 million every year." In recent years they have passed initiatives affecting agriculture in Florida, Arizona and California.

HSUS has is now in the process collecting signatures for a new initiative in Missouri, which would require a three-fourths vote in the legislature to repeal or amend any voter-approved referendum.

"They have a lot of dollars and they are going to come back and they are going to come back hard, that is one of the reasons we have to come back and we have to come back hard, so that you all can react," said Stouffer.

HSUS was recently downgraded to a "D" rating by the American Institute of Philanthropy, although they collect up to $100 million a year with advertisements featuring abused dogs and cats. However, according to Stouffer, they spend only "one-half of one percent" on animals.

"They are not a humane society, they are a fundraising political activitist group and there is no doubt about it," said Aull.

So far, HSUS has spent put in over $146,000 out of the $184,000 collected so far for the "Your Vote Counts" initiative. Another $17,000 has come from another group in Virginia.

"All this money is coming out of Missouri," said Stouffer.

Although the name sounds good, Stouffer asked the audience how many had actually taken the time to read "Prop B" "cover to cover" before voting.

"You hire folks like us to go to public hearings and hear both sides and you trust us to make a decision," said Stouffer, adding if you don't you can't vote "them out."

"The problem with initiative petitions is they are always written from one side," explained Stouffer.

"If you don't allow the legislator to adjust initiative petitions we're going to come up with a mess like they've got in California," he said. "One (initiative) says you can only collect a certain amount and another saying you have to spend so much and the too don't match."

He said the proposed initiative "sounds like a great slogan" but there is almost no way to get a 75 percent vote in the legislature .

"It is, again, kind of like Prop B, the wording on the ballot was so confusing," said Hemme, after the meeting. "This is going to be even more confusing and they are doing that on purpose."

He said, also, it gives groups with a lot of money a chance to pass bills with unfair ballot language and unintended consequences.

"We are a nation of sound bytes, we don't necessarily vote for people who stand for what we think they stand for," said Aull. "We watch a TV commercial and we'll see a 30-second sound bytes and we'll make our decision."

"That's actually what happened in Prop B," said Aull. "We've got to stop that from happening."

Although outspent by millions of dollars, many in attendance talked about getting out and "telling the story" of agriculture and the use of social media. In the beginning, Stouffer said he believed Prop B would pass by an 80-20 margin.

"Talk to people, that was the one recurring thing that everyone said, to talk to people, the grassroots, we'll never have the money that at HSUS does, but if we just talk to people, they'll listen," said Brittany Hemme, advisor for the Santa Fe Agri-Leaders.

This is the second in a series of meetings to be presented by Missouri Farmers Care across the state. A third meeting is being set for late November in Mt. Vernon.

"What has impressed us is the level of engagement," said Kleinsorge, after the meeting. "It's a year since Prop B and a year until the next election, but people are still fired up about it."

"I was really pleased with the turnout," said Hemme. "It was a great mix of people. It wasn't all farmers or all young or old people. It was a great mix of business, agribusiness, veterinarians, farmers and producers."