Thursday, October 8, 2009

141. Issue 2 not about animal rights

The passage of Issue 2 this November would create a "Livestock Care Standards Board," which shall have, "authority to establish standards governing the care and well-being of livestock and poultry in this state."

At first read, Issue 2 doesn't sound like such a bad idea, and the literature and commercials supporting it are sure to be warm and fuzzy. Unfortunately, underneath the surface, there are problems-several of them.

At the heart of the proposal is the deception and lack of integrity that has been brought forward by the factory farmers and state legislature. Placing the Issue on the ballot as a constitutional amendment is clearly a preempted move to prevent the animal compassion movement that has changed the laws in several states-most notably in California last year.

Ohio Against Constitutional Takeover (OhioACT) agrees, "While masquerading as an attempt to improve food safety and animal welfare, Issue 2 in reality is an attempt by big industry to preempt statewide initiatives like the most recent Proposition 2 in California, which phased out problematic animals production practices like battery cages for chickens."

For the factory farmers and state legislators, it is an act of cowardice, and a classic case of bait and switch. At first glance, the issue seems to be about animal care-people might assume that the "standards" will be favorable to animals. It is not, it is about money. It is about state-sponsored corporate greed, and every legislature that voted for this, and governor who signed it, ought to be ashamed.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is one of several Ohio newspapers that smell a rat, "No sooner did the livestock measure surface than Gov. Ted Strickland irresponsibly endorsed it. There seems to be more going on here than meets the eye -- but more than enough that meets the nose. The amendment and the "process" that produced it invite a pungent description."

Another problem, being fought by OhioACT, is that this is a constitutional amendment at all. As the group explains, "The Livestock Care Standards Board, once cemented into the state constitution, would have the power to override any act by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, or any initiative or referendum brought before the Ohio public, other than another constitutional amendment."

The Columbus Dispatch agrees, "The Ohio Constitution is not the appropriate vehicle for determining how the state should regulate the care of livestock. Yet political interests continue to try to amend that venerable document to push their agendas. The agriculture lobby, with a proposed constitutional amendment to create a statewide board to set care standards for livestock, is just the latest."

The issue would give "exclusive authority" to the Board, which could ignore public opinion. The Plain Dealer further notes, "But at its most damaging, the proposed Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board would pre-empt real Statehouse debate on farm animal standards."

Of the thirteen board members, ten members would be appointed by the governor and another two appointed by the state legislatures. There would be no election of members, like, for example, those that are elected to serve on the Ohio School Board. Three seats on the board are reserved for family farmers and one is reserved for a county human officer, but there is nowhere near the representation that would be required to influence the standards or represent the public.

A third problem is that the Issue would actually harm small farmers because the standards would inevitably favor the large factory farms-the only ones that are really supporting it. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) states that, "Issue 2 is opposed by the Ohio Farmers Union, the Ohio Environmental Stewardship Alliance, League of Women Voters of Ohio, and the Ohio Sierra Club." Furthermore, OhioACTS notes that "Ohio has a disconcerting number of factory farms-and that number could increase if an industry-based Board decides to ease regulations on animal production."

The Columbus Dispatch immediately picked up on the hypocrisy, "Farmers aren't typically eager for more government regulation, but the proposed board is an attempt to avoid rules they would like even less: a state law banning common practices that confine pigs, chickens, veal calves and other animals in tight spaces."

Despite the outrage, the issue, according to Paul Sharpiro of the HSUS, is likely to pass, "All of that said, unless there's a group willing to spend tens of millions of dollars over the next month, Issue 2 is very likely to pass by wide margins. The agriculture lobby will certainly be running millions of dollars in advertisement (they claim about five million)."

It is interesting that the factory farmers and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation have five million dollars sitting around to ensure that they can continue to abuse animals for corporate profits. What they are betting on is an easily-influenced and uninformed public. For them, I am sure that it is worth the investment-compassion would cost them much more. Please vote No on Issue 2.

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