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As suburbs engulfed the rural landscape in the boom following World War II, many family farmers found themselves with new neighbors who were annoyed by the sound of crowing roosters, the smell of animal manure, or the rumble of farming equipment. In defense of family farming, Massachusetts passed the first "Right to Farm" law in 1979, to protect these farmers against their new suburban neighbors filing illegitimate nuisance lawsuits against them when, in fact, the farms were there first. Since then, every state has passed some kind of protection for family farms, which are pillars of our communities and the backbone of a sensible system of sustainable agriculture.
However, in the past few decades, intensive corporatization of farming has threatened both the future of family farming and the ability of neighbors to regulate the development of industrial agricultural operations that have transmogrified many farms into factories. Small-scale farms that resembled Old MacDonald's farm (with an oink oink here and a moo moo there) have increasingly disappeared or been turned into enormous livestock confinements with literal lagoons of liquified manure and urine, super-concentrated smells that could make a skunk faint, or vast fields of monoculture crops grown with a myriad of chemicals and pesticides and sometimes even sewage sludge. For example, the decade before the first right to farm law was passed, it took one million family farms to raise nearly 60 million pigs but by 2001, less than ten percent (80,000 farms) were growing the same number of pigs.
Capitalizing on the sentiment of protecting traditional farming, giant agribusiness interests have convinced some states to revise their Right to Farm laws to stealthily protect the most egregious of industrial farming practices from legitimate nuisance suits. The Center for Media & Democracy has recently exposed and analyzed a cache of bills voted on by corporations and politicians behind closed doors and then introduced in state legislatures without any notice to the public of the role of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) bill factory in the production of the legislation and no disclosure of the fact that corporations pre-voted on the bills, let alone disclosures of the names of those companies. In 1996, ALEC suddenly took an interest in expanding right to farm laws. ALEC's corporate backers, unsurprisingly, hale from the factory farm side of the equation.
ALEC's Corporate Backers
ALEC's corporate members and funders have included a number of agriculture interests, including Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Cargill, and DuPont, as well as industry organizations like the National Pork Producers Council, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board, and the Illinois Soybean Association. Cargill is the nation's second largest beef processor, third largest turkey processor, and fourth largest pork processor. In three other areas, flour milling, soybean crushing, and production of animal feed, ADM joins Cargill as the biggest in the industry. Chemical giant DuPont is one of the world's largest makers of numerous pesticides, and in 1999, it purchased seed giant Pioneer Hi-Bred, the world's top seller of corn seeds, including genetically engineered seeds.