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:
- Why is it necessary to amend the constitution, can’t the same objectives be accomplished by using the Ohio Revised Code?
- By implication of its wording does Issue 2 suggest that livestock and poultry have a constitutional right to care and well being?
- Why the urgency, why so little opportunity for public participation?
- Is a new layer of government necessary?
- 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!