Livestock care on Ohio ballot | TSLN.com

Livestock care on Ohio ballot

Chris Clayton

OMAHA (DTN) – Ohio voters will cast ballots Tuesday on whether to create a state livestock care board – a proposal backed by major agricultural groups – to define animal care standards in the state.

The Ohio constitutional amendment Issue 2 will be watched closely by all sides of the animal rights debate, considering that it was backed by Ohio farmer groups as a pre-emptive attempt to head off the Humane Society of the United States.

With a simple majority passage, Issue 2 would create a 13-member Livestock Care Standards board specifically to define animal-care standards in the state. The state Department of Agriculture would implement those standards. Unlike Humane Society-backed ballot measures in states such as Arizona and California that won large voter support, Issue 2 does not ban or target any specific livestock practices such as sow gestation crates.

Issue 2 became the brainchild of the Ohio Farm Bureau and other livestock organizations after Humane Society officials called a meeting earlier this year with farm groups in the state. The Humane Society wanted livestock producers to agree to tougher measures on gestation crates and poultry pens or risk facing a ballot measure in 2010 that would be comparable to Humane Society campaigns in Arizona and California. Ohio farm groups balked at negotiating with the Humane Society and went to the state legislature looking to beat the Humane Society to the punch.

Those groups formed Ohioans for Livestock Care, which Ohio newspapers state has raised close to $4 million from major agricultural groups across the country. Opponents have not been able to generate much in terms of fund-raising capital. Reports state organized opponents of Issue 2 have raised less than $100,000 for their campaign.

Brian Roe, an agricultural economics professor at Ohio State University, said supporters have done a lot of advertising promoting Issue 2. Still, Roe thinks Ohio voters are just beginning to see the battles that will come over animal rights and livestock treatment in the state.

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“Whether it passes or fails, this issue is not dead in Ohio,” Roe said.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the HSUS, said as much at a debate Monday before a Columbus, OH Rotary club. Pacelle said the proposal doesn’t address the real challenges or treatment of livestock.

If Issue 2 passes, every livestock producer in the state is going to be affected in some manner, Roe said. Once the livestock care board is created, it’s possible every producer could face at least some type of regulatory change, even if it means signing some affidavits affirming the level of animal care on the farm.

Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said it remains to be seen what would occur if the ballot measure passes and the board is created. The board will make its own pathway on livestock care.

“Exactly what the board will do would still need to be determined,” Cornely said.

Most major newspapers in the state have come out against Issue 2. In some instances, opposition comes down to questioning whether such a board directly related to agriculture should be part of the state constitution. Yet, if Issue 2 doesn’t pass, the Humane Society will come back next year and also seek to change the state constitution in a similar manner, Cornely said.

Cornely has been posting comments about Issue 2 on Twitter @jcornely. People on both sides of the debate have been posting comments on the ballot measure using the hashtag #issue2. Cornely said he likes the effectiveness of message delivery and live tweets from events, such as the Columbus rotary debate. Others on Twitter then tend to pick up the comments and cast a wider net of followers.

“We’ve been really far out in front on this social media thing as a Farm Bureau organization,” Cornely said.

Although Issue 2 was developed and promoted by the Ohio Farm Bureau as a way to counter the HSUS, not all farm groups or farmers are on board. The Ohio Farmers Union opposes the measure. The Farmers Union states the initiative creates a new bureaucracy and doesn’t guarantee that the Humane Society cannot come in with another ballot initiative later.

Other small farmers fear a livestock care board would be slanted toward backing efforts promoted by the largest livestock operations and would not help look out for the interests of small producers.

For more on the campaign backing Issue 2, go to: http://www.SafeLocalOhioFood.org.