Ohioans are set to vote Nov. 3 on a controversial issue that could set the tone for other animal-care initiatives across the nation. Ohio farmers who placed Issue 2 on the ballot claim they are trying to head off attempts by radical animal-rights activists to legislate how food animals are raised. Animal- rights organizations, led by the Humane Society of the United States, claim supporters of Issue 2 want to preserve cruel treatment of animals for the state’s “factory farmers.”

Ohio’s Issue 2 would amend the state constitution to create an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to establish standards for the care and well-being of livestock and poultry. One of the goals of such standards is “the protection of local, affordable food supplies for consumers,” according to the resolution.

The board would consist of 13 members, including the state agriculture director, a representative of family farms, a food safety expert, two members representing a statewide farm group, a veterinarian, the state veterinarian and the dean of an agriculture department in a state university. It would also include two people representing state consumers, one person representing a county humane society, a family farmer named by the Ohio House speaker and a family farmer named by the president of the Ohio Senate.

Issue 2 has the support of the Ohio Farm Bureau, and a spokesman for the organization says the proposal puts people around the table who will address society's needs, the needs of farmers and the well-being of animals.
Supporters have held recent rallies where politicians, farmers and business owners encouraged Ohioans to vote in favor of Issue 2 in the upcoming election. Gov. Ted Strickland called the proposed constitutional amendment “an issue we can all agree upon…urban and rural, Republicans and Democrats, farmers and suburban families.”

Strickland said agribusiness pumps $93 billion into Ohio’s economy and employs 1 million people. Ohioans for Livestock Care, a broad coalition supporting Issue 2, charges that the amendment must be passed to prevent "outside interests" from pushing "rigid, impractical stands for animal care." The group has poured money into a statewide advertising campaign and backed 11 other rallies across the state.

Paul Shapiro, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United States, said the issue would “enshrine in the state constitution the agribusiness community’s preferred oversight system. It’s allowing the foxes to guard the henhouse.”

With 11.5 million residents, Ohio is America’s seventh most populous state, and how voters view animal-welfare issues here may provide a barometer for how voters in other states may decide future issues.

But Ohio is also a significant agricultural state, with one of every seven jobs in Ohio related to agriculture. The state is the second-largest egg producer, the fifth-largest dairy state, eighth-largest corn producer and the ninth-largest hog producer.

Agriculture organizations, including the Ohio Farm Bureau, claim that if onerous animal-welfare initiatives are adopted in Ohio as they have been in Florida, Arizona and California, some of the jobs related to agriculture would be endangered. That’s a significant concern in a state that is currently experiencing an unemployment rate of 10.1 percent.

The supporters of Issue 2, however, seem unlikely to succeed with their preemptive strike against an HSUS-sponsored animal-welfare initiative. That’s because folks in Ohio don’t believe changing the Ohio constitution is an appropriate way to determine how the state should regulate the care of livestock. Indeed, three of Ohio’s leading newspapers have taken stands against Issue 2, largely because it would amend the state’s constitution.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer called the idea of amending Ohio’s constitution “as unseemly as it is questionable,” and labeled Gov. Strickland irresponsible for endorsing Issue 2.

The Columbus Dispatch said: “Societal standards and consumer views on how food is raised are evolving and will continue to do so. That’s why government’s agricultural policies should be set by statute, where they can be debated and changed relatively easily through the normal legislative process. Changing the constitution requires a statewide vote of the people, making it an unwieldy tool for day-to-day regulation.”

The Dayton Daily News said: “The debates about what farming practices are safest and best are fierce. The arguments have to be resolved according to the science — not emotion, and certainly not with profits being the only concern. Agriculture policy, like everything else, has to evolve. What worked or was acceptable yesterday won’t always be the way of the world. Deciding the rules requires all sides sitting down and looking at bona fide research and negotiating in good faith. But nobody should be for settling food fights in the constitution.” — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor