When you hear the words "family farm," what images come to mind? If you're like most Americans, you may envision gently rolling hills of hay, an old tractor beside a red barn, and a collie lying contentedly in the sun as a small cluster of hens forage in the grass nearby. These are the types of images that animal agribusiness will use this fall as it pushes Ohio citizens to vote “yes” on a ballot initiative known as Issue 2. While the people behind this measure would like you to believe it will improve animal welfare and protect the autonomy of "family farmers," this carefully crafted messaging couldn't be further from the truth. Casey, Jasmin and Delci sit down to give you the low-down on this low-down dirty scheme.
Farm Sanctuary's New York shelter, a true idyllic farm
Casey: I read an article in the Columbus Dispatch last week that highlighted some of the key concerns we have with Issue 2 in Ohio. I think now is a great time to talk about these concerns so that our ACTivists in Ohio will be well prepared to help us defeat the measure. In fact, this applies to ACTivists across the country, because we're likely to see industrial farm lobbyists pushing similar legislation in other states.
Delci: Issue 2 is a not simply a proposed law, but a proposed constitutional amendment. This amendment would be bad news for farm animals, because it creates a Livestock Care Standards Board with the authority to establish animal welfare standards. Harmless as that sounds, it’s important to understand that this board would be overwhelmingly dominated by industry. Of the board’s 13 members, only one will represent a local humane society – and there’s no assurance that this lone “humane” representative would even be knowledgeable about farm animal welfare. (Most local humane societies deal primarily with dogs and cats.) And while Issue 2 purports to include “family farmers” on the board, it fails to define “family farmer” or “family farm.” It’s more than likely that the “family farm” board members would actually be factory farm operators.
Casey: The article I mentioned features several quotes from an industrial hog farmer named Jim Heimerl. While Heimerl is clearly supposed to represent the "family farmer" point of view in the article, it’s obvious that Heimerl's operation is not the celebrated "family farm" of America's rural tradition. According to the article, his farm in Licking, OH produces more than 100,000 pigs a year, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Jasmin: The melting iceberg…
Casey: True. If you go to the Heimerl Farms Ltd. Web site, you will find out that the Heimerls own not one, but three farms, and they confine more than 10,000 breeding sows to produce not 100,000, but 250,000 pigs a year! Not only that, but they also supply several dozen contract growers throughout the state, essentially providing everything from animals, to feed and medications, to operators who own nothing more than the land and the buildings in which they raise Heimerl pigs. This is no "mom and pop" operation; it’s a factory farm company with franchises all over the state. But this is exactly the type of "family farm" that is likely to be represented on the Livestock Care Standards Board if Issue 2 is passed.
Jasmin: That's like putting oil company executives in charge of writing our national energy policy.
Casey: Or letting multinational banking conglomerates write the laws on lending practices. Credit default swaps anyone?
Delci: Or having the car industry determine emissions standards and public transportation policies.
Jasmin: Or putting foxes in charge of the henhouse.
Delci: Not that we’re suggesting that a hen be appointed to chair the Ohio standards board . . .
Jasmin: No. I’m sure a hen would have something to say about how hundreds of millions of her egg-laying sisters are being treated, but the other board members would probably just put her in a cage and plug their ears.
Casey: The bottom line is that industry – any industry – only cares about one thing: its bottom line. It is fundamentally incapable of making ethical decisions.
Delci: By handing the authority to regulate farm animal welfare over to this industry-dominated board, Issue 2 would take that authority away from the people, exactly as intended. Issue 2 is a thinly veiled attempt by industry to block modest improvements in how farm animals are raised, including phase-outs of cruel veal crates, gestation crates for breeding pigs, and battery cages for egg-laying hens.
Jasmin: It’s all-too-obvious that this ballot measure was created out of fear that animal advocates such as us are actually succeeding in putting farm animal issues on the map. One of my favorite quotes comes from a blog entry from Beef Daily, entitled “Agriculture’s Stormy Cloud”:
“For me, the real concern is what happened in California with the passing of Proposition 2, a proposal that bans the use of modern housing systems for egg-laying hens, veal calves and gestating sows by 2015. Although this doesn’t directly hit the industry, for now, I fear this proposal is only the beginning. Yes, I’m very troubled, and you should be too. The animal rights activists are on the move, and they are making things happen–one nasty legislation at a time.”
Delci: We are making things happen, and citizens across the nation believe that farm animals deserve better. Try as it might, the industry can’t put the kibosh on public demands for serious change. Even if Issue 2 were to pass, it wouldn’t preclude Ohioans from passing reforms like those Californians supported last fall when they overwhelmingly voted to pass Prop 2. But it would create roadblocks, and because of the negative implications it has for farm animals across the board, it’s crucial that we defeat Issue 2 in November.
Jasmin: Modest reforms that give farm animals the ability to turn around and extend their limbs are way past due. The entire European Union is already in the process of phasing out these confinement systems, which represent some of the most egregious forms of institutionalized cruelty. And though "cage-free" and "crate-free" do not equal “humane,” the fight to bring about reform does absolutely put farm animal issues into the public consciousness. Case in point: As a result of the commercials we aired in California last year during the Prop 2 campaign, countless people went vegan.
Delci: It also helps set a legal precedent that farm animals are more than just production units. Their needs demand ethical and legal consideration.
Jasmin: Farm Sanctuary believes that “humane animal farming” is an oxymoron (for more on why, see our Truth Behind Labels report), but we do support anti-confinement measures as incremental steps toward a more compassionate world. While we sow the seeds for a vegan planet, and encourage people to adopt a plant-based diet, the animals who continue to be raised and slaughtered cannot afford for us to stand by and do nothing to improve their lot, even if it is the smallest of improvements.
Casey: Exactly. We may not see an end to all animal exploitation in our lifetimes, but we can diminish current cruelties one chunk at a time. And along the way, we’ll inspire more and more people to see animals as friends, not food.
Jasmin: So now is a perfect time to employ some good ol’ fashioned grassroots tactics. Write an e-mail to your friends and family exposing the truth behind Issue 2. Write several. Write a letter to your legislator and express disappointment about how quickly this ill-conceived, pro-factory-farm measure was pushed through. Then, write a letter to the editor of your local paper and voice your concerns about Issue 2. Remember, the letters section is the most read part of any newspaper, aside from the front page. That’s a lot of hearts and minds you can change with your words.
Delci: And don’t forget to stay tuned for our upcoming action alerts about Issue 2 and other topics. If you’re not already a member of Farm Sanctuary’s Advocacy Campaign Team, sign up today – it’s a perfect way to stay on top of all of our campaigns, local volunteer opportunities, and inspiring activist stories.
Casey: Remember, Issue 2 is representative of a much larger issue. With the passage of Prop 2 in California, the industry finally realized that animal advocates are not going away, and polls consistently show that the vast majority of Americans oppose the standardized cruelties of factory farms. So now, they're starting to fight back. The intensive confinement of farm animals will come to an end, and the industry knows it. The only question is whether it will take 10 years or 50. That's why it is so important for ACTivists in every state to get involved. If you are in Ohio, it is imperative that you spread the word, and most importantly -
Casey, Delci and Jasmin: Vote NO on Issue 2!
Jasmin: Wow, it’s so weird that we all just said that in unison.
Delci: Must be the tofu.
Casey: Or maybe great ACTivists just think alike.
Jasmin: I do like tofu, though.
Casey: Yeah, me too.