Farm Bureau hoping to pass issue on ballot
Wednesday, September 16, 2009 1:00 AM
BY ED GEBERT
Ed Gebert/Times Bulletin Sandy Kuhn of the Ohio Farm Bureau explains Issue 2 at the Van Wert Farm Bureau Annual Meeting Tuesday evening at Vantage Career Center.
Times Bulletin News Writer
Of the three issues on ballots across Ohio this November, one has motivated farmers and farm groups to action.
Issue 2 is a proposed state constitutional amendment which would establish a state board to govern the care standards of livestock raised in the Buckeye State. Tuesday night at the annual meeting of the Van Wert County Farm Bureau, that issue was a major topic of discussion.
The meeting's guest speaker, Sandy Kuhn, director of commodity relations for the Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB), described the reasoning for the establishment of this panel. "What this board would do is insure that Ohio has a safe, affordable food supply that's locally grown, that agriculture would remain a viable entity in Ohio, and that we promote economic development through agriculture continuing and people being allowed to have food choices when they go to the supermarket," she stated.
Usually, groups like the OFB do not seek additional oversight from government, but Issue 2 is seen as a necessary step to maintain excellent care of livestock and to insure food safety. With agriculture being the top industry in the state, the issue becomes important to almost all state residents.
"Agriculture has an economic impact of over $93 billion to Ohio's economy," Kuhn pointed out. "We are number two in egg production."
The proposed amendment is also viewed as necessary by farmers due to the political action of animal-rights groups, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). "They have been active in this, and they are really good at it," remarked Mike Schumm, OFB state trustee.
Already, animal-rights groups have been successful in getting ballot issues and legislation passed in six states which prohibit the use of veal crates, sow gestation crates and poultry battery cages. Proposition 2, which passed in California last November by a 63-37 percent vote, requires that animals can only be confined in an area where they can stand fully with wings outstretched and turn around without touching the cage or another animal. This would eliminate some farming practices due to the additional space requirements. A cage which now houses five chickens could only house one under such rules.
"An anti-ballot initiative similar to a Proposition 2 in California would pretty much eliminate our egg industry in Ohio," warned Kuhn. "The animal agriculture activists are our number one threat right now."
"The HUSU came in February and talked to us," Schumm related. "In the spirit of compromise, they said, they offered us this as their solution. 'We want the same thing we've asked for in the other states... you can give that to us, or we'll take it to the people.' That's not much of a compromise."
In her address to the county Farm Bureau members, Kuhn noted that although the idea of animals raised outside appeals to many people, changes in agricultural methods have actually improved the quality and safety of the food supply, as well as bettering the health of the animals. She noted that many animal diseases spread more quickly when the animals were not brought into a safe zone inside a barn. She stressed, "There is a reason we do what we do. And it makes sense."
Kuhn went on to talk about the differing definitions of 'humane treatment' between animal-rights activists and the majority of Americans. She asserted that groups like the HSUS want animals raised for food to be treated in the same way as household pets, and that such views have blurred the line between livestock and pets for many people.
Kuhn noted that claims that farmers do not care about the welfare of livestock are completely false. "Anyone involved in agriculture and raising livestock does everything they can to save an animal," she said.
Both Kuhn and Schumm pointed out that this issue is being watched in other states, and that animal-rights groups are bringing in funds from outside Ohio to try to insure the defeat of Issue 2.
The board which would be created with the passage of the measure would be made up of 13 members, including the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. One member each would be selected by the Ohio House and Senate, and the other 10 would be chosen by the governor. The appointees would consist of three family farmers, two veterinarians, a food safety expert, a representative of a local humane society, two members from statewide farm organizations, the dean of an Ohio agriculture college, and two members representing Ohio consumers.
Support for this initiative crosses party boundaries with leaders both bodies of the Statehouse as well as Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland supporting it.