To its opponents, it represents a power grab by Ohio’s agri-business industry and an attempt to thwart efforts to improve treatment of animals on large factory farms.
To its supporters, it represents a comprehensive but flexible mechanism to address animal care issues.
“It” is Issue 2, a proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution that will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.
According to the ballot language it would:
• Require the state to establish the Livestock Care Standards Board to prescribe standards for animal care and well-being “that endeavor to maintain food safety, encourage locally grown and raised food, and protect Ohio farms and families.”
• Authorize the bi-partisan board of 13 members to consider factors such as agricultural best management practices, bio-security, disease prevention, animal morbidity and mortality data, food safety practices, and the protection of local, affordable food supplies for consumers when establishing standards.
• Provide that the board is comprised of Ohio residents, including representatives of Ohio family farms, farming organizations, food safety experts, veterinarians, consumers, the dean of the agriculture department at an Ohio college, and a county humane society representative.
• Authorize the Ohio department of agriculture to enforce the standards established by the board, subject to the authority of the state legislature.
In that language, and in discussions it has had with representatives of Ohio’s agri-businesses, the Humane Society of the United States sees a classic example of bad public policy and that should be rejected by voters.
Following the passage last November of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act in California, the Humane Society says it sought a “cooperative dialogue” with the agri-business community in Ohio to advance animal welfare statewide.
“But rather than discussing potential solutions to these problems, the Ohio Farm Bureau is now trying to hastily grab more power… The lobby group persuaded the legislature to refer a measure to the November…ballot that would enshrine in the state’s constitution an industry-dominated council to ‘oversee’ the treatment of farm animals,” a statement on the issue by the Humane Society says.
It calls Issue 2 a “handout to big agri-business interests” in the state.
Under the proposal, the governor would appoint 10 members to the standards board, including one representing family farmers and one knowledgeable about food safety in Ohio; two representing Ohio farming organizations, a veterinarian and the state veterinarian, two representing Ohio consumers, the dean of a college agriculture department, and a representative of a county humane society.
The leaders of the Ohio House of Representatives and the Senate will each appoint a family farmer to the board and the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture will chair the board.
But is it appropriate to establish such a panel through the state’s constitution?
Beth Vanderkooi, director of state policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau, calls Issue 2 “a good fit” with the constitution, pointing to about a dozen other boards and commissions already set in the constitution.
“In the existing cases, the constitution establishes the basic guidelines for the board or commission to function and then authorizes the General Assembly to develop more specific laws via statute,” she says.
While lawmakers in the House and Senate were considering the resolutions to place the issue on the ballot, the Ohio Farmers Union took a neutral stance. In a June memo to agriculture committees in both chambers, OFU president Roger Wise said all parties should “…convene to discuss this issue and work together to craft an agreement with which everyone can live. Having recently met with representatives from the Humane Society of the United States, we are confident this approach could work as they are very amenable to working with livestock and poultry producers throughout the state.”
More recently, the OFU has voted to oppose Issue 2, Wise told Ohio’s Country Journal.
He said members felt the constitution “…isn’t the avenue by which to create this oversight board” and had questions about funding it. The OFU hopes to organize several discussion sessions before the election to learn more, he said.
Meanwhile, supporters have been at work. The Ohio Chamber of Commerce has scheduled rallies throughout the state for Issue 2, including one held Sept. 26 in Bowling Green.
Issue 2 appears to have bi-partisan support. Gov. Ted Strickland has endorsed it as have Senate President Bill Harris, (R-Ashland), and House Speaker Armond Budish (D- Beachwood).
California’s Proposition 2, which doesn’t take effect until 2015, passed easily with 63.5 percent of the votes as an initiative statute.
It requires that calves raised for veal, egg-laying hens and pregnant pigs be confined only in ways that allow the animals to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around freely. There are exceptions for transportation, rodeos, fairs, 4-H programs, lawful slaughter, research and veterinary purposes.
Violations are misdemeanors and include a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 180 days.