December 15, 2009

 

 Ohio voters OK board overseeing livestock care standards

 

 

 

 

Issue 2 a counter to livestock housing referendums

posted December 1, 2009

Dairy cow

Ohio voters have passed a constitutional amendment establishing an expert panel overseeing the state's livestock care standards.

The referendum is seen as a preemptive strike against successful citizen initiatives in California and elsewhere mandating an end to certain livestock housing systems. And it's not just voters pressing for change. Lawmakers in Michigan recently passed a law that phases out veal stalls within three years and battery cages for laying hens and gestation stalls for breeding sows within 10 years.

Ohio's Issue 2, which created the Livestock Care Standards Board, won a decisive victory Nov. 3 with 63.6 percent of voters supporting its establishment. The 13-member panel will include two governor-appointed veterinarians and is mandated to prescribe animal care and well-being standards that "endeavor to maintain food safety, encourage locally grown and raised food, and protect Ohio farms and families."

The board would establish welfare standards after first considering agricultural best management practices, biosecurity, disease prevention, animal morbidity and mortality data, food safety practices, and the protection of local, affordable food supplies.

Standards and rules the board develops are subject to the authority of the state's General Assembly. Before the board can convene, the assembly must pass legislation outlining various aspects of the panel, such as term limits and enforcement protocols.

The Ohio VMA was pleased with the passage of Issue 2, according to OVMA Executive Director Jack Advent, and the association looks forward to working with the new group. The OVMA would have liked to see more than two veterinarians on the board, however.

"It certainly makes a lot of sense to have a good representation of veterinarians on any board dealing with issues of animal care and well-being," said Advent, who noted the OVMA was not consulted in the development of Issue 2.

The Ohio Farm Bureau led the charge for the ballot initiative. John Lumpe, president of the Ohioans for Livestock Care Political Action Committee, said residents understand that decisions affecting the state's animal agriculture industry should be made by a board of home-grown experts.

"Voters agree with Ohio's farm community and our diverse base of supporters: Decisions about food and farming should be made in Ohio by Ohioans," Lumpe said.

Lumpe clearly had in mind Proposition 2, the ballot initiative passed by California voters in 2008 that requires major changes to the state's housing systems for egg-laying hens, veal calves, and pregnant sows by 2015. Similar referendums on livestock housing have been successful in Florida and Arizona.

The Humane Society of the United States, which was a key player in getting Prop 2 on the ballot, called Ohio's Issue 2 an "empty package."

"The Ohio Farm Bureau and other agribusiness lobby groups cooked it up in an effort to block real reform," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO.

To many, referendums are an ideal form of democratic expression. But not every issue is easily addressed with a "yes" or "no" vote. Janice Swanson, PhD, a professor of animal behavior and welfare at Michigan State University, thinks animal agriculture is one of those issues.

"If the true goal (of a referendum) is improving the well-being of the animal, then it is very complicated, and it's one of those issues that does not lend itself well to simple explanations," Dr. Swanson said.

"I feel for the citizen trying to vote on that and not realizing all the factors that come into play. It's just not that simple," she added.

The passage of Issue 2 won't end the debate about animal agriculture in Ohio. Indeed, Pacelle made no secret that the HSUS still has plans for the state.

"We decided to spend nearly no money against Issue 2 and to reserve our energy and resources for an effort to promote the humane treatment of animals, protect food safety and the environment, and allow Ohio farmers to remain competitive in the days ahead," Pacelle said.