In February, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) met with members of Ohio’s livestock industry to discuss passing humane legislation in that state. HSUS had its eye on Ohio to pass legislation to ban the use of poultry cages, veal crates and gestation stalls. Agribusiness in Ohio knew this was not such a far fetched idea, given California’s Proposition 2 landslide ballot-initiative win last November. Proposition 2 banned the confinement of farm animals in a manner that does not allow them to turn around freely, lie down, stand up, and fully extend their limbs. (Arizona and Florida have also passed similar measures.) The meeting was said to be “extremely cordial” according to a member of the Ohio Farm Bureau. However, with the fear of something like Proposition 2 going on the ballot in November, big agriculture in Ohio was scared.
In anticipation of HSUS’s ballot initiative, the Ohio Farm Bureau and other agribusiness leaders approached state lawmakers. The result was the House and Senate proposing a constitutional amendment, which will be placed on the November ballot in the form of Issue 2. Issue 2 is a voter referendum to create an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. This would add a provision to the state Constitution, establishing a board, which would set standards for the care and well-being of livestock statewide. The governor and legislature would appoint members (within the parameters of the text of the amendment) and the state agriculture director would lead the panel. Given that it was agribusiness that lobbied for this amendment in the House and Senate, there is no doubt that the board created will be industry dominated. The agriculture industry is calling this oversight, while some animal welfare advocates are analogizing it to the “fox guarding the henhouse.” Rep. Michael J. Skindell, D-Lakewood, has said “[I]t’s really about agribusiness interests working with the legislature to block regulations requiring more humane treatment of animals — allowing a chicken to spread its wings in a cage, for example, or a dairy cow to lie down in the barn.” The board would have far-reaching power to set standards for livestock and poultry care, food safety, and animal well-being. It would also have minimal legislative oversight.
There is no Prop 2 in Ohio yet, and if if Issue 2 is passed, there likely never will be. The constitutionally created board will be the decision makers on animal welfare and will be insulated by the Constitution to pass whatever laws they deem necessary. If Issue 2 is passed, any future initiatives in Ohio, dealing with farm animals, can be deemed pre-emptive and therefore unnecessary. The effects of Issue 2 could be not only to preempt an Ohio version of Prop 2, but could also have far-reaching power that is not being discussed. The agriculture industry effects more than just animals. Issues concerning the environment, workers and labor law are all affected by the agriculture industry. Putting the power to make and pass laws dealing with a huge industry in the hands of a few does not sound like democracy at its finest.
There are two very strong issues at play here: 1) The agriculture industry in Ohio that views HSUS as an out-of-state special interest group that wants to tell farmers how to do their job; and 2) An animal welfare group, with members all over the country that seeks to end inhumane treatment of animals. Perhaps the solution to better animal welfare is neither initiatives like Prop 2 or Issue 2. In a perfect world, couldn’t farmers and animals advocates work together? After all, farmers often argue the point that of course they want to take care of the well-being of the animals, since they are their livelihood. Yet, isn’t that what HSUS was trying to do when they met with the Ohio Farm Bureau in February? HSUS was trying to open dialogue and start healthy communication. Why can’t there be a collaborative relationship between the opposing sides? Ohio’s legislators have made it perfectly clear that dialogue is not what they want. They have not only backed away from discussions with the largest animal welfare group in the nation, they have shut the door on fellow Ohioans. By creating a board (stacked in favor of agriculture) that decides animal welfare issues, the Constitutional amendment will take away the democratic voice given to citizen-based initiatives. People (including Ohioans) want to know more about what is being fed to the animals they eat and how they are treated. This amendment would take away the transparency in that process. Arguments, such as, whether crating/caging animals is bad for the food supply will never be addressed by this pro-agribusiness board. The argument for creating this amendment, was that these issues should not be determined by one biased side or group. Unfortunately in Ohio, that is exactly what will happen with the passage of Issue 2. Hopefully Ohio citizens will realize the effects of Issue 2 and vote no in November.
See this related post as well.
Filed under: animal law Tagged: | animal abuse, animal advocacy, animal cruelty, animal ethics, animal law, animal welfare, ballot initiatives, battery cages, California’s Proposition 2, egg production, environmental advocacy, environmental law, environmentalism, factory farms, farmed animals, HSUS, Humane Society, industrial farming, Issue 2, Ohio, Ohio Farm Bureau