In case you hadn't noticed, Ohio voters will be considering issues besides whether or not we should have casinos in Ohio. The fact that we are voting on Issue 2 in November is a perfect example of how today's consumer is currently impacting agriculture and will continue to do so in the future. They want to know more about how their food is produced on the farm and that it is safe, nutritious, and affordable. They certainly have the right to know.

Why is Issue 2 on the ballot? Out-of-state animal rights activist groups such as HSUS (Humane Society of the United States) have brought ballot initiatives to states such as Florida, Arizona, Colorado, and California to radically change how livestock and poultry are housed. In general, they are opposed to the confinement housing systems used for poultry, swine, and veal calves. The ballot issues in these states passed in favor of the animal rights groups and now livestock producers in the states are faced with significant changes in their production systems. Ballot initiatives are not the only method in which livestock producers have been impacted. Michigan legislators are in the process of banning many currently accepted housing systems for poultry, swine, and veal through legislation.

Earlier this year, leaders from HSUS came to Ohio to meet representatives from the Ohio livestock organizations and other farm groups. HSUS informed this group that they intended to bring a similar ballot initiative to Ohio that had run in the earlier states. The livestock groups which represent producers of all sizes, with the support of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, wanted to take a proactive approach on this issue so the state legislature was approached to put the creation of a Livestock Care Standards Board on the November ballot. This was passed by overwhelming margins in both the House and Senate and signed off by the Governor in July.

If Issue 2 is passed, a Livestock Care Standards Board will be established to set standards for livestock and poultry care that will take into account issues of food safety, local availability and affordability of food and best management practices for animal well-being. The Board will be comprised of 12 members: three family farmers, two veterinarians (one of whom is the state veterinarian), a food safety expert, a representative of a local humane society, two members representing state farm organizations, the Dean of an Ohio agriculture college, two members representing Ohio consumers, and the Ohio Director of Agriculture who will serve ex officio as the 13th member and Chairman of the Board.

Ten members will be appointed by the Governor. The House and the Senate will each appoint a member. There will not be more than seven members of the same political party on the Board at any given time. Issue 2 authorizes the Ohio Department of Agriculture to administer and enforce the standards established by the board, subject to the authority of the General Assembly.

As with any political issue, there has been plenty of political debate on both sides of Issue 2. The general public may speculate why agriculture, which tends to be very independent in nature, would want to approve an oversight group such as the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. Supporters of Issue 2 view the Board as an effective means to assure Ohio's farm families have a safe, locally-grown food supply, bring together Ohio's animal care experts to ensure excellent care of the state's flocks and herds, and maintain the viability of Ohio agriculture which is the state's number one economic contributor.

There are plenty of examples in our society where an industry polices itself. Doctors are subject to medical review boards if malpractice has taken place. Lawyers and judges are scrutinized by ethics boards. Individuals in education are peer reviewed in order to receive promotions. The list of examples of this type of self-scrutiny is quite lengthy.

Many of the people that I have heard voicing an opposition to Issue 2 talk about wanting less government involvement. I can certainly respect that opinion because I often feel there is way too much government in our lives. However, I believe that trends are already in place that government is going to be more actively involved in the oversight of our food production. I already pointed out the ballot measures passed in other states restricting livestock production systems. Michigan legislators have taken a nearly direct opposite approach to dealing with threats from HSUS when compared to Ohio.

People have complained that another government board to oversee by the state will just cost the taxpayers more money. I do agree that there will be costs involved. The legislation that Michigan has passed will require that some agency be in place to enforce their new restrictions. There will be costs to the taxpayers in that scenario as well.

Complaints have been that we don't need to add another agency to our Ohio constitution. This process is enabled by the constitution and there are plenty of agencies that have been created to help deal with issues in specific areas of concern. Several other boards including the state board of education, the Ohio tuition trust fund, and the Ohio ballot board are housed in our state constitution. Issue 2 also preserves the right of legislative action and initiative law and constitutional amendments.

The ultimate issue here is a philosophical difference between very diverse groups. Supporters of groups such as HSUS and PETA believe in animal rights. Supporters of Issue 2 believe in animal welfare. Please note the difference between the two phrases: animal rights vs. animal welfare. Any farmer knows that for an animal to be healthy and productive, they must utilize science-based, factual information that will insure the general welfare of the animal. Anything that jeopardizes the welfare of the animal will reflect negatively in the end product for the consumer.

Dr. Bobby Moser, Dean of The College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) states, "The Ohio State University has historically been an advocate for food animal care and well-being, for maintaining a safe and adequate food supply, for protecting the safety of farm workers, and for providing Ohioans with access to locally raised food."

OSU believes in taking a proactive, comprehensive approach to animal care in this ever-evolving field. Education of those who directly manage animals is the most consistently successful approach to improving animal care and well-being. As such, producer education and the education of 4-H youth in the area of animal care have been and will continue to be a high priority. The college advocates an approach that is research based.

Through this article, I have tried to inform you about the history and potential impacts of Issue 2. It is your duty as a voter to fully understand this issue before you vote. The results of the vote on Issue 2 will definitely impact agriculture for years to come.

Source: John Grimes, Ohio State University Extension Educator, Agriculture and Natural Resources