Buckeye Farm News: 2009 – A Year In Review
Last December, hundreds of Ohio farmers representing all 88 counties met to vote on Ohio Farm Bureau’s policies for 2009. They approved extensive animal care policy, which stated that “we support properly researched, veterinary approved and industry-tested poultry and livestock practices that provide consumers with a wholesome food supply” and “we oppose legislation that, unless clear abuse is evident, restricts private ownership or use of animals.” Additionally, farmers stated that “we oppose legislation that restricts or prohibits a producer’s ability to produce and sell livestock that is raised according to industry accepted animal husbandry practices.”
Two months later, that the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the nation’s largest animal rights group, called a meeting with Ohio Farm Bureau and other farm organizations. The HSUS said if farm groups refused to agree to legislation that illegalized common farming practices, it would consider forcing its regulations via a ballot initiative.
HSUS, an extremely well-funded and highly sophisticated public relations machine, had been undefeated in several states, including its most recent ballot initiative in California that passed by a two-thirds margin. Not only is that measure expected to drive some California farmers out of business, it was so poorly written that no one is sure how to comply. Backed by polling, HSUS said it was poised for a similar victory in Ohio.
Following the meeting, Ohio Farm Bureau and other farm organizations were clear on one point: animal rights groups should not have the only say on how Ohio farmers care for animals.
Farm Bureau, under the guidance of its board of trustees, all of whom are farmers, engaged in extensive deliberations on the best way to ensure animal care while protecting Ohio farms and Ohio’s food supply.
There was little question that the public would demand some form of assurance that farm animals are well cared for.
Farm groups voiced their concerns with legislators, who responded in June by introducing a bill that would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to give Ohio a comprehensive process to address animal care issues. Despite facing one of the worst budget crises in state history, lawmakers worked together to pass the measure, which became Issue 2.
The resolution called for an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board that would include family farmers, veterinarians, a food safety expert, consumers, the dean of an agricultural college and a local humane society representative. The board, in conjunction with the Ohio Legislature, will prescribe standards for animal care and well-being that protect Ohio’s farms, families and locally grown food supply.
In August, nearly 500 farmers gathered at Ohio Farm Bureau’s leadership conference to discuss the issue and to launch local, grassroots campaigns to inform voters.
What followed was a groundswell of support that saw tens of thousands of yard signs posted in fields and front yards across the state. Farmers talked to civic organizations and distributed information at community events. They called into radio shows and wrote letters to their newspapers.
On Election Day, their efforts paid off and voters approved the measure by a nearly 2 to 1 margin.
Given the strong support Ohioans gave to this approach to animal care, it’s unclear how the HSUS and other animal rights groups will work to undo the wishes of voters. But it’s obvious that the animal rightists are angered about the possibility of not having control over the decisions made by Ohio farmers.
When HSUS brings its attack in 2010, as it has promised, Issue 2 has provided a blueprint for what can be achieved when farmers unite.