Issue 2 Divides Ohioans

As Nov. 3 approaches, advocates and opponents of Ohio’s State Issue 2 are campaigning to promote their beliefs about the proposed constitutional amendment to create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.

The 13-member board, comprising three farmers, two veterinarians (including the state veterinarian), a food-safety expert, a local humane-society expert, two statewide farm-organization members, an Ohio agricultural-college dean, two Ohio consumers and the director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, will create and regulate standards regarding:

  • Agricultural best management practices
  • Biosecurity
  • Disease prevention
  • Animal morbidity/mortality data
  • Food-safety practices
  • The protection of local, affordable food supplies

Gov. Ted Strickland will appoint all board members except two family farmers, who will be elected by leaders of the Ohio House of Representatives and Ohio Senate.

The amendment originated as a response to threats from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to initiate legislation in the Ohio Constitution similar to California’s Proposition 2 last November, which banned animal confinement.

According to the HSUS Web site, “Issue 2 is little more than a power grab by Ohio’s agribusiness lobby. The industry-dominated ‘animal care’ council proposed by Issue 2 is really intended to thwart meaningful improvements in how the millions of farm animals in Ohio are treated on large factory farms.”

Many farmers and agribusinesses throughout the state have rallied, using mass-media and grassroots efforts, for the amendment, angered by blanket statements that all farmers mistreat their livestock and by attempts from the out-of-state activist organization (HSUS) to establish laws within their industry.

Issue 2 is designed to accomplish three things, says an Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman in a You Tube video: safeguard family farms, provide good care for animals and supply safe, local food to consumers.

“The Livestock Care Standards Board will have the best interest of Ohio agriculture and consumers in mind, “ said Brenda Hastings, a Geauga County dairy farmer, “as opposed to special interest groups such as HSUS who are motivated by promoting their agendas of a vegetarian/vegan society.”

Gov. Strickland, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee and many agricultural groups, including Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, Ohio Corn Growers Association, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio Soybean Association and Ohio Wheat Growers Association, endorse its passage.

Some opponents consider the amendment a dangerous precedent because, in their opinion, it concedes to the influence of special interests in the Constitution. Others believe it is masking agribusinesses in the guise of impartial counsel.

The social-media realm is crammed with dialogue about Issue 2. Pro and con-Issue 2 groups have created Facebook pages, Web sites, Twitter accounts and participated in countless blog chat rooms.

At Columbus, one citizen blogger wrote:

“One of the common objections is adding another layer of government control over our lives. This is valid, but the alternative of activist control from Washington DC seems worse. Issue 2 is real simple; do you want Local Control or Washington Control. Control seems inevitable. Pick the lesser of two evils. A vote Yes will establish welfare and food safety rules based on research and data; a vote No will be a YES vote to activist control next year with no research or data as backing.”

As the days draw near, editorial after editorial can be found within Ohio’s largest daily newspapers, with farmers, consumers and editorial boards giving their two cents about the subject.

“HSUS, PETA and MERCY have chased pork productions out of three states and have Ohio in their sights. That makes a campaign and a ballot issue “necessary” to spread good, accurate information,” said Ralph Dull in a Dayton Daily News letter to the editor.

Akron Beacon Journal and Youngstown Vindicator have confirmed their support of Issue 2 while Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dayton Daily News have publicly opposed it.

On Election Day, voters will have the opportunity to influence the mechanics of their food system. A “yes” vote for Issue 2 gives regulatory and oversight control of Ohio’s food supply to representatives with the education and history necessary to carry out such responsibility. A “no” vote may make Ohio’s farmers vulnerable to HSUS-invoked legislation that will significantly affect their ability to produce an abundant, affordable food supply.

Be informed before casting your ballot. Ask questions and take time to learn about what’s at stake for Ohio’s largest industry.

USDA Campaigns for Local, Regional Food Systems

Food and agriculture are at the center of national dialogue as of late, re-introduced to the masses because of the “Food, Inc.” movie release, TIME magazine commentary “America's Food Crisis and How to Fix It” and most recently, a new USDA campaign launch.

The government branch is allocating millions of dollars in its budget to spur a nationwide conversation about how food travels from farms to plates.

“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan’s initiative that aims to educate Americans about the importance of promoting local and regional food economies in our country’s food system to:

• Create new income opportunities for farmers
• Promote sustainable agriculture
• Generate wealth that remains in rural communities
• Supply healthier food
• Decrease energy expenditure

"An American people that is more engaged with their food supply will create new income opportunities for American agriculture," said Vilsack. "Reconnecting consumers and institutions with local producers will stimulate economies in rural communities, improve access to healthy, nutritious food for our families and decrease the amount of resources to transport our food."

The USDA will “use existing USDA programs to break down structural barriers that have inhibited local food systems from thriving” and has allocated the following toward the campaign:

• Risk Management Agency – $3.4 million for collaborative outreach and assistance programs to socially disadvantaged and underserved farmers. These programs will support “Know Your Farmer” goals by helping producers adopt new and direct-marketing practices. For example, nearly $10,000 in funding for the University of Minnesota will bring together experts on food safety and regulations for a discussion of marketing to institutions like K-12 schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and other health-care facilities.
• USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service proposed regulations to implement a new voluntary cooperative program under which select state-inspected establishments will be eligible to ship meat and poultry products in interstate commerce. The new program was created in the 2008 Farm Bill and will provide new economic opportunities for small meat and poultry establishments, whose markets are currently limited.
• Rural Development – $4.4 million in grants to help 23 local business cooperatives in 19 states. The member-driven and member-owned cooperative business model has been successful for rural enterprises and brings rural communities closer to the process of moving from production-to-consumption as they work to improve products and expand appeal in the marketplace.
• USDA's Rural Development will also announce a Rural Business Opportunity Grant in the amount of $150,000 to the Northwest Food Processors Association. The grant will strengthen the relationship between local food processors and customers in parts of Idaho, Oregon and Washington and will also help the group reduce energy consumption, a major cost for food processors.

Advocates of buying locally produced foods cite safety and transportation-energy costs as primary factors in the dialogue.

Michael Abelman, founder and executive director emeritus of the Center for Urban Agriculture at Fairview Gardens, as well as a recognized practitioner of sustainable agriculture and proponent of regional food systems, commented about the government movement:

“We (society) are part of a broad movement reclaiming food from faceless, long-distance industrial providers. We're demanding not only that it be safe, but that it taste good – and that it be grown in a way that honors the land and those doing the work. And while it's true that we could slip up and make someone sick, the results of any carelessness would be smaller, more local.

“Food safety doesn't hinge on monitoring tiny bacteria. It depends on the most fundamental aspect of a healthy food system – relationships – biological, personal, ecological and local. Those relationships are on a scale small and, so, familiar.”

Vilsack solicits the campaign in a YouTube video and encourages consumer feedback to help shape the $65 million promotion at the campaign Web site via e-mails or comments via Twitter.

“Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” poses the question, “Every family needs a farmer. Do you know yours?”

Will the campaign be successful in its goals to create awareness and change? What reforms/modifications to the food system should the USDA consider? Should any agribusinesses be concerned?

Congress initiates first female ag chair

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) replaces Sen. Tom Harkin as our nation’s chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Former Ag Chairman Harkin filled the vacant Health, Labor, Education and Pension Committee chair seat, left vacant after the passing of Sen. Ted Kennedy.

This is another first for Lincoln, who became the youngest female senator at age 38 in 1998.

Since 1825, the committee has been responsible for legislative oversight of all matters relating to the nation's agriculture industry, farming programs, forestry and logging, and legislation relating to nutrition and health.

Born and raised in Arkansas, Lincoln considers herself qualified both personally and professionally for the position. Lincoln is confident that her background as a farmer’s daughter and her service in Congress have prepared her for the role.

"The American farmer and rancher could not have a better friend in Washington than Senator Blanche Lincoln,” said Mark Williams, president, Southwest Council of Agribusiness.

Lincoln’s former committee involvement:
  • Served on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry since January 1999; has served as chairwoman of the subcommittee on Rural Revitalization, Conservation, Forestry and Credit
  • Served as chairwoman of the subcommittee on Production, Income Protection and Price Support
  • Played a role in the 2008 farm bill debate
  • Served as chair of Rural Outreach since 2005
  • Founded bipartisan Senate Hunger Caucus in 2004
  • Served on the House Committee on Agriculture from 1993-1995

Several high-profile individuals from a variety of industry segments have publicly declared their support of Lincoln, including American Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman:

"Senator Lincoln has represented the interests of agriculture and rural America since her election to the House of Representatives as a moderate Democrat in 1992 and her election to the Senate in 1998. She has deep ties to farming and hails from a seventh-generation Arkansas farm family. We know she will continue to be a strong voice for our industry and will continue as a consistent leader on key Farm Bureau issues such as those that relate to farm policy, the environment and estate-tax reform."

Progressive Farmer ag reporter Chris Clayton said, “Lincoln is also likely going to be more skeptical of climate legislation because it may offer little benefit for rice growers or producers of other southern crops. She was quoted in mid-August saying Congress should just focus on a renewable-energy bill and drop the cap-and-trade emissions plan.”

Some believe her strong sentiments will definitely affect policy, including journalist Phil Brasher of the Des Moines Register, “Lincoln is as vigorous a proponent for large farms and livestock interests (think Arkansas-based Tyson Foods) as there is in Congress. Pair her with the panel’s senior Republican, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and you have a powerful one-two punch for the southern perspective on agricultural policy.”

Interestingly, Lincoln is up for re-election in 2010, causing others to consider her new position as a self-seeking political move. Will she prove herself as the authority on a number of significant issues? Only time will tell.

Do you think having a chairwoman will impact legislation? What, if any, influence will her home state have on her decision-making process? Should other congressional members have been considered?