We’ve Got Issues – Katie M. Myers

Issue 2 (Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board) will be on Ohio’s ballot, this November…how will you vote?  I would like to use this opportunity to tell you a little bit about the issue, and give you some information to process before you go to the ballot this November.  If you have questions after reading this article, Contact your representative, they passed the ballot issue unanimously.  It is important to be informed, to stay informed, and to make your own judgment.

This ballot issue is an amendment to the Ohio State Constitution.  A yes vote by simple majority, would create a 13 member “Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board”.  The board would be charged with setting livestock care standards, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture would be responsible for their enforcement.  Of the 13 members, the Governor will appoint 10 (2 veterinarians, 1 food safety expert, 1 representative from a local humane society, 2 members from statewide farm organizations, 1 Dean of an Ohio Agricultural College, and two Ohio consumers).  The House of Representatives will appoint 1 (a family farmer), the Senate will appoint 1 (also a family famer), and the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture will serve as chairman.  This board is to be bi-partisan- not more than 7 members from the same political party serving at the same time.  This is an attempt to keep the board an open forum with full and open discussions regarding the care of livestock.  The board would be responsible for developing policy recommendations and introducing them to the general assembly for approval and implementation.  Farmers would be responsible for adopting the approved standards.  However, implementation and adoption are not actually addressed in the ballot language.

Issue 2 asks voters to vote on a process to develop policy, not the actual policies that would result from a board’s formation.  However, separating the two is actually a difficult task.  Why is such a board necessary in the first place?  According to the Ohio Farm Bureau, such a board is necessary to protect Ohio’s agriculture.  If a board is not created, a third party from outside the state of Ohio could put legislation on the ballot to prohibit certain livestock care practices, because it deems them inhumane and some Ohio organizations are concerned that will happen given the similar ballot issue that recently passed in California.

California’s Proposition 2 “Standards for Confining Farm Animals” passed in 2008, with 63% in favor of the legislation.   That law will require that all egg-laying hens, veal calves, and pregnant sows have room enough to lie down, stand, turn around and fully extend their limbs without touching another animal, or the side of a cage.  The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) expressed concern over the Californian ballot issue by stating that while they felt it was an admirable goal to improve the welfare of production farm animals, they believe the proposition ignores other variables that would threaten the well being of the very animals the legislation is supposed to protect.  AVMA further stated, that the best animal housing environments take into consideration not only freedom of movement, but also expression of normal behaviors, protection from disease, injury, predators, proper and adequate water, food, and handling.  While California’s proposition 2 would certainly give animals more freedom to move according to the AVMA it would most likely compromise other factors especially protection from disease and injury.  However, knowing what the full ramifications of the passage of Proposition 2 are in California is a few years off…since producers have until 2015 to comply.

Many Ohio farm organizations believe Ohio needs to act proactively, and set our own standards before a third party enters with ballot language similar to California’s.  Creation of such board-they say- would more likely address all of the relevant factors when creating a healthy living environment for production animals, rather than focusing on one aspect.  For example, Jack Fisher, of the Ohio Farm Bureau, was recently interviewed on the rural radio program, “Agri-Talk”,  and had this to offer in support of Issue 2: … “this challenge needs to be hit head on…we are trying to be broad based and give everyone a voice…this will take emotion out of it” (animal care).  Fisher also related that consumers should be engaged in order to protect their choice of what they eat.  He said, “availability of food, cost of food and the opportunity to locally produce food are all at stake.”   Ohio organizations that have already endorsed Issue 2 are: Ohio Farm Bureau, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Ohio Cattleman’s Association, Farm Credit Services, Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, Ohio Pork Producers and Ohio Livestock Coalition.

Proponents of Issue 2 believe setting up a standards board would:

  • Assure Ohioans with safe, locally grown food
  • Bring together the best Ohio expertise in animal care to ensure excellent animal care
  • Reinforce consumer confidence in Ohio raised food
  • Maintain Ohio’s Agricultural viability
  • Protect our #1 economic contributor- Agriculture
  • Keep Ohio’s family farms in business

What are the concerns with Issue 2?  I have searched the internet for opposition to Issue 2, and have only come up with 1 opponent (at the time of this article), the Human Society of United States (HSUS).  HSUS has stated that they are prepared to launch a statewide ballot for 2010 to ensure that animals on “factory farms” are given enough room to turn around and extend their limbs.  Wayne Pacell of HSUS was recently quoted as saying, “All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals for food.”   I doubt that anyone would disagree with that statement.  In fact, most farmers are very concerned with the well being of their animal, healthy animals = healthy profits.

Though I was not able to find any other right out opponents to Issue 2, I was able to find people and organizations that had some valid concerns with creating a Livestock Care Standards Board.  The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) testified before the Ohio House of Representatives expressing the following questions/concerns about the ballot measure:

  1. Why is it necessary to amend the constitution, can’t the same objectives be accomplished by using the Ohio Revised Code?
  2. By implication of its wording does Issue 2 suggest that livestock and poultry have a constitutional right to care and well being?
  3. Why the urgency, why so little opportunity for public participation?
  4. Is a new layer of government necessary?
  5. Who will cover the costs of implementation and enforcement of standards that are established by the board?

In short, OEC agreed that the care and well being of Ohio’s livestock is very important but it questions the process and ramifications of this ballot issue.

As I stated earlier in this article, separating the issue of merely forming a board and policies it might recommend is very difficult and I am not sure such ramifications should not somehow, at least be discussed.  If you were to ask me the simple question, “Should I vote yes, or should I vote no?”…I would probably say, vote no.  However, this is not a simple question and there is no easy answer.   Voting yes for a process of forming a bi-partisan board to address and answer the complex questions of animal care sound like a great idea.  However, I have reservations revolving around what happens next.  Anytime, a board is formed the opportunity for a “one size fits all” mentality rears its ugly head.  This has happened in other states.  Will the three farmers that are appointed, actually and fairly represent the diversity of Ohio agriculture or will they represent one segment?   Could this be an attempt to make sure there are NO standards set at all?  Who will fund the mandated standards?  Will taxpayers be burdened with yet another layer of government to finance?  If Issue 2 passes, it will be imperative to demand real balance to the board:  Big, small, conventional, organic, and sustainable farming practices must all be represented.  If the board were to create standards that only large industrial farms could afford to adopt, we would run small farms out of Ohio and out of business.

Are there other alternatives?  I might suggest adding a task force to the already established, Ohio Food Policy Council- a Livestock Care Standards task force.  Such a task force could be charged with the same tasks as an appointed standards board, and make recommendations directly to the governor.  It would probably be as effective, less subjected to abuse and less costly.

As an advocate for agriculture, I want to urge you, as a voter, to make a truly informed decision regarding Issue 2.  Do I believe livestock care standards are important? Yes.  Do I believe we need to protect Ohio’s agricultural base? Yes. Do I believe there is an easy answer? No.  Do I think creating such a board would answer those questions? Maybe, but that depends on who is represented on the board and who would pay for the mandated standards.

So the matter lies there in the hands of the voters.  Do we assume that the board will represent Ohio’s agriculture, or do we assume it will not?   When asked the question on November 3, 2009, “Shall the proposed amendment be approved?, please take into consideration both sides of the story, make an informed decision, and by all means VOTE!

Should issue 2 pass, we will be looking for nominations for representation on the resulting board.  We will use your recommendations to petition the governor, house and senate.  If you know of qualified candidates for any of the 12 positions to be filled, please contact me!

Sources:

www.legislature.state.oh.us/res.cfm?ID=128_SJR_6

www.theOEC.org

www.OhioLivestockCare.com

www.delphosherald.com

www.ballotpedia.org

www.hsus.org/press

http://www.avma.org/onlnews/javma/sep08/x080915b.asp

http://ofbf.org/news-and-events/news/395/

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16 thoughts on “We’ve Got Issues – Katie M. Myers

  1. Hi Katie – Thanks for providing such a thoughtful and thorough analysis of Issue 2. You raise a lot of good questions for both sides to consider. I work for the HSUS and I’d like to add some points to your discussion.

    You noted that the AVMA opposed Prop 2 in California. However, the California VMA (the state chapter of the AVMA) supported the measure.

    Right now the HSUS is probably the most visible opponent of Issue 2, but we’ve been joined by the Ohio Farmers Union and the Ohio Sierra Club. The editorial boards of a number of prominent newspapers have also come out against Issue 2 (these include the Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal, and Dayton Daily News).

  2. The farmers I know who sell pastured beef, lamb, pork, eggs, and chicken are concerned that whatever regulations might be determined by a board that is made up of primarily industrial agriculture will be very costly and difficult to comply with for them. I do not want more bureaucrates deciding how my food is produced, especially if the process might threaten the viability of small scale farmers who are producing high quality, pastured products. Obviously, these farmers have nothing to fear from the animal rights activists.

  3. Hey, I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say GREAT blog!…..I”ll be checking in on a regularly now….Keep up the good work! 🙂 🙂

  4. Hillary:

    I am as afraid of HSUS as I am with Big Ag. To me it’s about freedom and liberty and private property. And I know HSUS and PETA are not friends of these, nor is the Sierra Club for that matter. This is real issue…freedom, liberty, private property, and the Ohio Constitution, not vegan-ism or animal extremists or radical environmentalists…it’s about farmers and farming and the land and our way of life. I am glad they are on-board, but I’ll keep my powder dry and one eye open when I sleep with these so-called friends sleeping in my camp.

  5. Hi Stephen,
    Thanks for responding to my comment. I recognize that your approach to Issue 2 is informed by a different set of concerns and I respect that. Freedom, liberty and private property are important to me too. I think it comes down to a question of how society strikes a balance between common values such as the humane treatment of animals and other compelling and competing interests. The term “animal extremist” is tossed around a lot, and I think it gets used as a convenient label for anyone you don’t agree with. If you met the people I work with at the HSUS, I don’t think you’d find us as dogmatic as you fear. We love our pets, we represent a range of diets (vegetarians, vegans and yes, meat-eaters too), we’re eager for practical solutions – even ones that require hard-fought compromise – and we see the value in talking to people who may not agree with us. So thanks for continuing the conversation.
    Hillary

    • Hillary

      I am a proud farmers wife. Before I married my husband I was a city girl. I married into a family of proud 4th generation hog farmers. My husband works 12 hours a day with his father and brother to bring good quality pork to America’s dinner table. I have helped him out on many occasions and can say that the hogs are treated well and seem content in their space. Gestation crates are a way to protect the sows from hurting each other and to protect the person caring for them, they also make my husband’s work much faster then what it would be if they didn’t have the crates, which brings him home earlier to be with our boys at night. What the USHS wants hog farmers to do would put us out of business. We are not even breaking even right now, and the changes you want to make would cost too much, and what would it prove? Can you prove to me that the hogs would be happier? Tell me how are they treated bad? They have a roof over their head, they get fed, and are taken care until they go to market. Some humans here in our own country don’t have it that well. If what happened in California happens here, there will be many families losing their way of life. My son wants to be a hog farmer, and I will do what it takes to ensure he will get that chance, and that includes getting issue 2 passed. We are proud farmers, who treat our livestock with respect and will continue to do so for generations to come.

  6. First I want to say this is a great post!

    I am a full time farmer in Ohio, my wife and I also have 30 purebred Simmental beef cows that we raise for breeding stock. I am a strong supporter of Issue 2 because after working with my local humane society for the past year I have found that their is a lack of guidelines in Ohio for them to refer to when investigating animal abuse. Currently the best resource for them is to look at what is industry accepted practice, sometime this does not give them enough information to decide what is or is not abuse.

    What this board will do is establish a set of guidelines using sound research for both livestock owners and animal cruelty investigators to refer to. It is a huge step for Ohio’s livestock industry to step up to the plate ask for a board that represents all parties to come up with acceptable practices that they must follow.

    This is why the American Humane Association, and the local shelters in Ohio have all stepped up in support of creating a livestock care board in Ohio.

    I do agree that no farmer wants any more regulations to follow, but sometimes they are needed in order to move forward.

    Thanks again for this post,

    Mike Haley

  7. Mike –
    First let me say, I think it’s great that you’re working with your local humane society. Every shelter benefits from strong community support, and since most traditional animal shelters deal primarily with dogs and cats, people with experience handling other types of animals can be a great resource. But it should be noted that there are a number of Ohio animal shelters that publicly oppose Issue 2, including the Capital Area Humane Society, the Toledo Area Humane Society, the Cleveland Animal Protective League, and the Geauga Humane Society.

  8. Hillary,

    I find it funny that an employee from your organization is not aware of the laws in Ohio that allow local shelters to operate and enforce animal abuse cases. It is the duty of local humane shelters to investigate cases of all reported animal abuses in the county in which they operate, this means both companion and livestock animals. Most shelters in Ohio’s countryside have a major dilemma when responding to livestock cases, there is no clear cut rules on what is abuse, this board will establish those rules that they have been lacking. The four shelters you noted are inner city shelters, and probably don’t run across this problem very often.

  9. It’s understandably hard to for any shelter to know when to step in when there are not strong enough animal protection laws in place. This is why it is important that we strengthen laws so that animal control officers and humane agents know what they need to look for and what is and is not against the law. What could be more simple than having a law that states that animals need to be able to stand up, turn around, and stretch their limbs?
    The HSUS has a website filled with resources that are helpful for animal shelter professionals, called animalsheltering.org, which we recommend for anyone working in the animal care and control field. Thanks.

    • Hillary I applaud your organization for crating materials for local shelters to purchase, in alot of cases they are the only guidelines that they can even find, again I thank you for this.

      The problem with the proposals that you stated is that at first glance it look reasonable, but their is no research behind it that it will create better standards for livestock. In fact, reasearch from the AVMA shows that your proposal would lead to a higher death rate for flocks in free range systems http://bit.ly/hyGf2

      • There is a lot of research, all of which can be found at farmanimalwelfare.org In fact, poultry welfare scientist Dr Joy Mench, a professor in the department of Animal Science at UC Davis has said that “mortality and disease rates can be similar under both systems if management is good.”
        I definately recommend looking at the research at farmanimalwelfare.org as it covers a wide range of issues.

  10. @Nursecilla – Thank you for sharing your story. As a working mom myself, I can appreciate the many demands you and your husband face in balancing farm life with time for your kids.

    The focus of the HSUS is not to put your family out of business but rather to engage with farmers and consumers to find fair ways of balancing the producer’s need for efficiency with what we would argue is a very basic measure of an animal’s welfare: the ability to move.

    I recognize that this is only one of many factors for measuring a farm animal’s quality of life. For example, as you point out, you provide food and shelter. But the intense confinement of gestation crates frustrates many instincts and behaviors. According to the AVMA’s Task Force on the Housing of Pregnant Sows, “Sows housed in stalls cannot exercise…control over their environment. They can use only minimal behavior to thermoregulate, cannot avoid sows that are aggressive or approach those with whom grooming relationships might be established, cannot flee a fear-producing stimulus, and cannot easily choose a place to lie down that is separate from where they defecate….In general…lack of control over stressful components of the environment suggests a reduction in welfare.” (Task Force on the Housing of Pregnant Sows. 2005. A comprehensive review of housing for pregnant sows. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 227(10):1580-90.)

    There are scientific studies that can be marshaled for both sides of this debate, and I think much of it comes down to what these studies set out to measure.

    Major corporations like Smithfield have committed to phasing out gestation crates, and I have no doubt that farmers are innovative enough to accommodate these changes.

  11. Thank you all for the thought provoking discussions! I have a few updates since the date of the article…

    Countryside Conservancy has neither endorsed nor opposed Issue 2. Our goal is to share educational information to the voters of Ohio.

    Early voting began at local board of elections on September 29, 2009.

    New proponent information can be viewed at the following web sites:

    http://www.safelocalohiofood.org
    http://ourohio.org/index-php?page=yes-on-issue-2#

    New opponents have merged since writing this article and they include, but are not limited to:

    The Ohio League of Women Voters
    The Ohio Farmers Union
    The Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association

    New opposition information can be viewed at the following website:

    http://www.ohioact.org/#

    I hope this information is helpful and I hope to see you at the polls!

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