Koster defends support of “right to farm” after backing 2010 puppy mill bill

ORONOGO, Mo. — With a large cornfield behind him and campaign signs all around, Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster appeared Wednesday at the David Collard farm to tout Amendment 1, an Aug. 5 ballot measure that would make the “right to farm” part of the state constitution.

“If you’d said to me back 10 years ago, Missouri needs a right to farm in the state’s constitution, I’d be skeptical,” said the former Republican state senator who switched to the Democratic Party in 2007. He was flanked by representatives of the state’s commodity industries and the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Koster, who is planning to seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2016, has been touring the state this week to tout his support of the state’s agriculture industry.

In remarks, he railed against a list of actions over the past decade that he believes have begun to infringe on the ability of agricultural interests to do business in the state. He pointed to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that strengthened eminent domain rights for cities against farmers, a 2010 decision restricting concentrated animal feeding operations, and a measure approved by Missouri voters in 2010 that aimed to regulate the state’s dog breeders, which he said was “drafted and funded by special interests in Washington, D.C.”

“The experiences a lot of us have shared have caused us to question our confidence in this regard,” he said.

State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, a sponsor of the “right to farm” measure in the General Assembly, has cited the 2010 ballot measure, Proposition B, as a leading reason that Amendment 1 should be passed.

At the time, however, Koster supported the 2010 ballot measure. His office launched the Canine Cruelty Prevention Unit. His official website has a running number of the number “rescued since January 2009.” It was above 6,200 on Wednesday. Koster’s office even sent out press releases at the time showing him in jeans and boots participating in a raid of an animal breeding operation.

Former Democratic state Sen. Wes Shoemyer, a Northwest Missouri farmer who served in the Legislature with Koster, is helping lead an effort opposing Amendment 1. He said Koster’s support for the measure is a political “flip-flop.”

“People are tired of opportunist politicians,” Shoemyer said in an interview. “When Proposition B came out, he (Koster) personally went to puppy mills trying to get support of people like suburban moms. Then, he comes out when he thinks there’s some opportunity from big cash donors from agribusiness and the Farm Bureau the other way. You have to plant your feet.”

Speaking to more than a dozen residents at the Collard farm, Koster said he supported Proposition B in 2010 because “many of the provisions were long overdue.” He said his concern was with a provision limiting the number of dogs each breeding operation could have to 50, which he called “absurd and shocking.”

In 2014, the Humane Society of the United States, or HSUS, listed 22 dealers from Missouri on its list of 101 “problem puppy mills,” making Missouri the worst state in the nation, in the organization’s view, in terms of dog breeding laws.

In an interview, Koster said he remains in favor of “bringing reform to the puppy mill industry,” but said he is concerned about “arbitrary caps” on the agriculture industry that he fears might target large animal operations next.

“(Proposition B) points out a danger that giving continued license to HSUS to come in and promote these large-scale changes without letting the citizens of the state really fully understand what is in them is dangerous,” he said.

Collard, 62, who was Koster’s host on Wednesday, said he supports the amendment because he wants to protect his “way of life.” He operates a 100-acre farm just north of Webb City. Neighbors align the back side of his cornfield, and he said they have mixed concerns about his operation.

“There’s always someone who has a different opinion,” Collard said, adjusting his Farm Bureau cap. “What I want to do is protect my way of life. I’ve been here since 1985 and have been coming out here since I was 9. I think Amendment 1 is here to defend us all.”

Shoemyer, who farms corn, beans, wheat, cattle and hormone-free pork in Monroe County, said he thinks just the opposite.

“This is about the future of the state and how it is going to be shaped,” he said. He said big agricultural corporations have bought good will in the state’s agricultural community, and that Amendment 1 aims to protect them.

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