Yesterday (June 25) the Ohio Senate voted unanimously to allow a referendum to be put on the November ballot creating a 13-member Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board as part of an amendment to the state’s constitution. The board would be charged to provide oversight on how farm animals are raised. It would include “a broad base of livestock care experts including family farmers, veterinarians, a food safety expert, a representative of the local human society members from the statewide farm organizations, the dean of the college of agriculture and members representing Ohio consumers,” according to the Web site of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, which pushed the measure through – quickly.
Wait a minute; I thought it was the Human Society of the United States that wanted to put a resolution on the state ballot? I thought it was the HSUS who called a meeting in February to let the Farm Bureau know it would be best to work with the animal welfare and vegetarian group to formulate a "compromise." After all this is the group that had just very successfully guided California’s Issue 2 through the ballot box in November of 2008.
Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Factory Farming Campaign for HSUS says “disappointed” best describes the society’s reaction to the Ohio bill.
“This unfortunate handout to the agribusiness lobby seeks to enshrine in the state constitution a council that will codify the status quo vs. seeking meaningful improvement in livestock welfare,” says Shapiro.
He notes the group had been trying to engage the OFBF in dialogue since February. “We worked out areas of common ground in coming to collaborative agreement with the farm bureaus in Colorado and Maine,” Shapiro says. "We were hoping to formulate something similar in Ohio. They stalled for 4 months and then out of the blue comes this power grab to put into the state constitution their own form of oversight. No one thinks this will do anything other than preserve the status quo.”
Paul Vickers, HSUS state director for Ohio did offer the following testimony on the bill before the Senate voted
“This effort to amend Ohio’s constitution by creating an industry-dominated council to oversee farm animal treatment is poor policy and an obvious attempt to thwart meaningful reform. Rather than allowing the foxes to guard the henhouse, I urge the legislature to reject this attempted power grab and encourage the type of civil dialogue on the issue the HSUS has been requesting for the last four months.”
Guess what HSUS? The Ohio Farm Bureau beat you to the punch on this one. And in so doing served notice that Ohio agriculture is not willing to compromise on an issue that you hope will eventually drive consumers to a vegetarian diet and dismantle American agribusiness.
So here is the HSUS counter punch.
“Of course we will be encouraging voters to vote, ‘No,’” Shapiro says. “In addition because of this provocative move, because the farm bureau refused to meet with us and now has taken this provocative step, we are now considering a measure for the November 2010 ballot. We had hoped that we could negotiate something that would be palatable to everyone, the Farm Bureau has forced our hand.”
Shapiro does not believe even a constitutional change approved by Ohio voters can hold back an HSUS resolution. He says it will be similar to the one passed in California where HSUS spent $10 million (Shapiro says agribusiness spent $9 million) and won easily.
“So much is misstated about Issue 2, but all it affected was veal, egg-laying poultry and breeding pigs,” Shapiro says. “All it said was while on the farm they must be able to stand up, lie down and turn around and extend their limbs without touching the sides of the enclosure. And we gave the industry until 2015 to comply.”
It’s not yet the Fourth of July, but the fireworks are already going off.