Photo: Kat… via FlickrConsider the weasel: so unassuming, even sweet — on the outside. But put them near their prey and watch out! I’ve got weasels on my mind, of course, thanks to Ohio Issue 2, which goes before voters tomorrow. Issue 2 is the Ohio livestock industry’s attempt to head off restrictions on their worst practices, such as tail docking, battery cages and gestation crates, and, purely coincidentally I’m sure, to keep the Humane Society of the United States from doing in Ohio what they’ve done in California, Michigan, Florida and Colorado just to name a few — either through the ballot box or negotiated executive order, change the way factory farms raise their animals. Fiendishly clever in its construction, Issue 2 would create a new commission called the Livestock Care Standards Board to regulate livestock farming techniques. It sounds so reformist! There would even be consumer and human society representation. How unassuming, even sweet — on the outside.
Indeed, once you take a good look at Issue 2, you see how truly weaselly it is. Eleven members of the 13 member board would be appointed by the governor (who also appoints the chairman). While spaces would be reserved for those consumer and humane society representatives, as well as for family farmers (who may also be large-scale factory farmers), the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation itself would not have underwritten at least $500,000 of the estimated $5 million Issue 2 campaign [PDF] if there were not a clear understanding of whose interests would ultimately prevail.
But far worse for Ohioans than the board’s makeup will be its influence. Issue 2 would write the LCSB into the Ohio State Constitution, rather into than the legal code — no half measures for Big Ag! Why would this be a problem? The group Ohio Against a Constitutional Takeover explains (via PDF):
The Livestock Care Standards Board, once cemented into the state constitution, would have the power to override any act by the Ohio Department of Agriculture or the state legislature, or any other initiative or referendum brought before the Ohio public other than an additional constitutional amendment. In effect, this means that any standard created by the Board is a final decision, giving it unchecked power over animal agriculture.
Nothing like the exercise of little raw power to put a spring in an industry’s step. To be clear, this board would have sole and supreme authority — it would take “self-regulation” to a ridiculous extreme. Again, short of amending the state’s constitution (which is more difficult than simply passing a referendum), voters, along with the state ag department and the state legislature, would lose any ability to control the livestock industry. They could, quite simply, do as they please.
The sad fact is that, in a low-turnout off-year election like tomorrow’s, the odds of passing this ludicrous amendment are surprisingly good. Yes, newspapers across the state both large and small are opposed. Groups from Farm Aid, to the Ohio Farmers Union to Food and Water Watch, and the Center for Food Safety have stated their opposition as well. But that durn LCSB sounds so professional and reform-minded! Why not just trust it?
Make no mistake, this is not just Ohio’s problem. Should this bit of governmental legerdemain succeed, a similar commission will likely be coming to a state near you. Big Ag isn’t even pretending it’s a one-off. Having been embarrassed at the polls in state after state when it’s gone up against the Humane Society, Big Ag is trying not so much to take but to steal Ohioans’ ball and go home. Let’s hope they fail.