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Editorials

‘Right to fish and hunt’ wrong in its deceptive approach

Language, George Orwell once observed, can be used “to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”

Consider the innocent-sounding “right to fish and hunt,” a proposed amendment to the Indiana Constitution that the legislature has been toying with for the last few years.

It passed both houses two years ago. But the House and Senate must pass it again during this spring’s short session if it is to go on the ballot this fall. The amendment would guarantee the right to hunt, fish, harvest game or “engage in the agricultural or commercial production of meat, fish, poultry, or dairy products, which is a valued part of our heritage.”

Your first question may be, “don’t we already have those rights?” and the answer is, of course, that we do.

Both the state and national constitutions contain a “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” guarantee, as Kim Ferraro, staff attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, explained. “Your economic freedoms are already protected. You can be a farmer. You can fish. You can hunt.”

So, your second question might be, “why do we need an amendment at all?” And the answer is, we don’t.

But giant meat-processing companies, which already depend on thousands of controlled animal feeding operations in Indiana, would be very pleased to see this amendment.

CAFOs are meat and dairy operations that raise cattle and swine by the hundreds and poultry by the thousands. With livestock confined in huge buildings or cages, such operations are far more efficient than traditional family farms.

But they also present a range of concerns. Odors, air and water pollution and chemically tainted waste may reduce property values or even make adjoining farms and homes uninhabitable. CAFOs may cause fish kills or other environmental degradations. And questions are often raised about how animals are treated in such settings.

For the national agribusiness companies that benefit from these farms, the “right to hunt and fish” amendment would be a formidable weapon to deter litigious neighbors, local zoning boards, nosy Humane Society folks and state and federal regulatory agencies.

Ferraro won a court fight against a Wayne County CAFO that had made life on a neighboring family farm unlivable. But, she says, “It’s already difficult to challenge these things.”

Elevating the “right” to operate megafarms above other competing rights would make it harder to deal with CAFO problems. “When you provide constitutional protection to an activity, it makes it more difficult for the state to regulate it,” Ferraro says.

Those who would impose zoning or environmental rules or seek redress for obnoxious odors in court would have to show a higher level of need in order to supersede the CAFO’s constitutional “right.”

Imagine where all this would lead if it were really about the rights of individuals to farm, fish or hunt. Do we need a hairdresser’s amendment, or a doctor’s amendment, or a carpenter’s amendment, to more fully guarantee those workers’ rights? Of course not. Do we need an amendment for chess players, or coin collectors, or scuba divers? It boggles the mind.

This General Assembly session will be a short one, so many important issues will go begging for attention. When the “right to hunt and fish” amendment takes a portion of our legislators’ precious time to work toward a special set of rights for megafarming operations, it’s fair to wonder just for whom our lawmakers are making laws

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