John C. (Jack) Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president

Tough Calls

From Little League to the Supreme Court, somebody has to make the call. Everything from Junior’s batting average to the shape of society rests in the hands of someone who is willing to make a decision. Some are black and white: It’s either a ball or strike, constitutional or not. Others aren’t quite so obvious. The hard judgments aren’t either/or, they’re if/then, which are the kinds of calls 13 Ohioans are up to their necks in right now.

The members of Ohio’s new Livestock Care Standards Board have taken on an unenviable job. Umpires call it as they see it; justice is blind. Animal issues are blurry. The board’s task is to focus on answers when not even the questions are clear.

Here’s an example. If the question is simply whether farm animals should live comfortably, the answer is yes. But the board is obliged to ask and answer questions that are far from simple, ones the rest of us rarely consider. Such as how do you define comfort? Is comfort for farm animals different than comfort for people or pets? How do you actually measure it? Is comfort more, less or equally important as safety? What if making the animal comfortable and/or safe creates public health concerns or puts a farmer in physical danger? Do you put the farmer at financial risk by setting up new or different care standards? And if the farmer’s forced out of business or moves out of state, how many jobs in transportation, manufacturing, processing or retailing might be lost in Ohio? And don’t forget to consider how all this translates to the dinner table. How do animal care decisions impact the availability, safety and affordability of food?

Makes your head spin, doesn’t it? Which is why Ohioans passed Issue 2 last year, so we’d have 13 brave souls to sort it all out. The members of the Care Board are committed and qualified. They serve without pay, contributing invaluable knowledge and experience. Their diverse backgrounds are in animal welfare, family farming, hunger advocacy, veterinary medicine, education, food safety and consumer issues. You can read about the board members on page 14.

Already, the board has exhibited a commitment to openness. During public forums throughout the state, board members didn’t talk, they listened for hours, to hundreds of consumers, animal rightists, animal welfarists, commercial farmers, niche farmers, food manufacturers, restaurateurs, politicians, hunger fighters, veterinarians, moms, kids, teachers and students; in short a cross section of Ohioans who spoke with passion and conviction. Regardless of their viewpoint, your friends and neighbors made one thing abundantly clear: They have high expectations for the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. The problem is, in many cases, those expectations may be incompatible. Tough choices are going to have to be made. Which brings us back to why we need this board.

Imagine a ballgame or court room minus a decision maker; where outcomes are decided based on which side yells the loudest. Without the board, that’s what we face with the emotional, divisive but crucial debate over the proper way to care for livestock.

I’m confident the board will do its job well. Which probably means anyone with extreme views, from any side, won’t be happy. But the rest of us, who just want what’s best for animals and our families, will be. We’ll be glad we have someone who will make the call.