By a solid margin, Ohio voters on November 3 passed Issue 2, a constitutional amendment that establishes a Livestock Care Standards Board. (See “Understanding Ohio’s Issue 2” post on October 28). The ballot issue was a forceful jab at the Humane Society of the United States, who had identified Ohio as its next target for new laws restricting certain livestock confinement practices. Passing Issue 2 was an accomplishment for its proponents, and it has generated a good deal of discussion around the country about using Ohio’s strategy as a model for other states.
But now a significant challenge looms before the Governor, the Ohio General Assembly and the Ohio Department of Agriculture: implementing Issue 2. Much must happen before the new Article 14 of the Constitution results in actual standards for livestock care. A number of concerns and needs rise quickly to the surface:
- Establishing board conditions. The new law allows the Ohio General Assembly to set the terms of office and conditions of service for the members of the Livestock Care Standards Board. An important first step in implementing Issue 2 is for the Ohio legislature to utilize this authority and establish clear guidelines for board members, as it has done for other state boards. Doing so should diminish the potential of issues such as political maneuvering in board appointments, internalized power by the board, procedural conflicts and uncertainty, and should help increase the efficiency and productivity of the board.
- Clarifying definitions. A few terms in the new law are vague, perhaps intentionally, and have already led to serious debate. What is a “family farmer”? Issue 2 uses the term when referring to the composition of the board–one member representing “farmily farms” and two “family farmers” are to be on the board. Yet neither the new Article 14 or Ohio law defines the term. Also scattered throughout the law is the term “local foods,” a popular term these days, but what is its legal meaning? The lack of a definition for “livestock” led to one campaign argument that the term livestock includes dogs, and that the board could thus use its power to regulate or endorse “puppy mills” –a weak argument that demonstrates a lack of understanding about Ohio animal laws but illustrates the need for definitional clarity. The Ohio legislature should refine these terms in its legislation.
- Appointing the board. Critics of Issue 2 claim that the Livestock Care Standards Board will not represent the full range of agricultural interests in Ohio, a criticism frequently made on agricultural policy issues. The law itself establishes the board’s composition, but filling those slots is a crucial step in the implementation process. At risk is acceptance of the board and its standards by Ohio’s smaller scale and alternative farmers, many of whom opposed the law, as well as citizens who fear that the board will amount to “big agribusiness” regulating itself. Ensuring that the board contains diverse types and sizes of agricultural operations appears critical to the board’s future success.
- Integration with existing institutions and programs. The law’s several references to “local foods” immediately leads me to the Ohio Food Policy Council, established two years ago by Governor Stickland. The Food Policy Council focuses on the environmental, social, and economic benefits that Ohio’s food and farming system contributes to Ohio, and has developed an impressive body of work and set of recommendations for the state. We also have the Livestock Environmental Permitting Program, responsible for permitting of confined animal feeding operations. How will Ohio integrate the Livestock Care Standards Board with these and other related programs?
- Transparency. This concern needs little explanation; any appearance of a closed, pre-ordained process could doom the board’s credibility and solidify attempts to reverse Issue 2 on the next ballot.