One devil’s advocate thoughts

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If idle hands are the devil’s workshop, idle thoughts are, what, the product of a devil’s advocate?

Maybe, but one election result from early November leaves plenty of room for thought, idle or otherwise.

On Nov. 3, Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 2, a statehouse-directed ballot initiative to create a “Livestock Care Standards Board.”

The 13-member, all-appointed board, according to its advocacy group, Ohioans for Livestock Care, was necessary because “out-of-state extremist groups” were licking their vegetarian lips to make Ohio the next California: greenie-weenies looking to ban “modern” livestock tools.

Implied target

The group never said who the hog huggers were but the implied target was the Humane Society of the U.S., the 11-million-member group that lists as a key mission to “target” the “worst cruelties of farming in modern agribusiness such as confinement of animals in crates and cages.”

Thus the pre-emptive campaign by Livestock Care: beat the weenies at their ballot game and ask voters to permit Ohio to name its own “farmers, veterinarians, scientists, consumers and food safety experts” to use “their best knowledge in making decisions affecting animal agriculture.”

It was such a wonderful idea that supporters lined up fast. They included the big farm and commodity groups, Gov. Ted Strickland, the state’s Catholic bishops and even eight county sheriffs.

All intended to out-organize, out-hustle, out-spend and, if necessary, out-lawyer opponents of their “we-know-best” plan.

And they did. Initiative 2 passed by a greenie-grinding 64-36 percent.

Biggest opponents

Initiative 2′s biggest opponents, however, weren’t Al Gore acolytes. In fact, the biggest anti-2 group to emerge was a coalition that included the Ohio Farmers Union, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, the Ohio Sierra Club and Food & Water Watch, a Washington, D.C. consumer rights group.

The group, naming itself Ohio Against Constitutional Takeover, or Ohio ACT, fought the agbiz-backed initiative because it claimed the law would not protect small farmers and consumers. Instead, it warned, the law would “clear the way for factory-style animal operations to self-regulate” mega-livestock operations.

Not so, countered supporters. Ohioans want “safe, affordable, locally grown food” and the best way to assure this would be to keep the “extremists” — whose agenda “could lead to higher costs … put food safety at risk … (and) cause thousands of family farms to go out of business…” — at bay with Initiative 2.

The devil himself

Whoa. Given those dire consequences, even the devil himself would have voted for Initiative 2.

But the agbiz gang couldn’t take the chance their self-serving self-regulator might be stillborn. It bankrolled a high-dollar campaign to sell the invention. And it wasn’t a one-horse, two-pig operation.

According to an Oct. 23 analysis of Initiative 2 contributors by Ohio ACT, ag’s big boys contributed $2.7 million of the $4 million raised to support it.

Ag’s biggest boys — just 12 of ‘em — dropped $1.4 million, or 35 percent of all contributions, into the pot.

Those select few included the Ohio Farm Bureau which kicked $505,185 into the campaign, the National and Ohio Pork Producer councils gave $213,000 and the United Egg Producers and Ohio Poultry Association poured in $300,000.

Time will tell

And, not surprisingly, Initiative 2 passed without much discussion over the new panel’s authority, accountability, constitutionality or whether big ag’s big hand on the state’s livestock tiller is the right one for all Ohio’s farmers, consumers and environment. Time will have to tell.

Until then, however, we do know that the livestock model long advocated by Big Ag has, in just the last year, delivered tens of billions in red ink and hundreds of millions in taxpayer bailouts to the nation’s — including Ohio — ever-shrinking number of beef, hog and dairy farmers.

But, hey, that’s just one devil’s advocate thoughts.

About the Author

Alan Guebert was raised on an 800-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. After graduation from the University of Illinois in 1980, he served as a writer and editor at Professional Farmers of America, Successful Farming magazine and Farm Journal magazine. His syndicated agricultural column, The Farm and Food File, began in June, 1993, and now appears weekly in more than 70 publications throughout the U.S. and Canada. He and spouse Catherine, a social worker, have two adult children. farmandfoodfile.com More Stories by Alan Guebert

One Comment

  1. Nancy Hutchinson says:

    Alan Guebert playing devil’s advocate in his last week’s column was a great piece of journalism, exposing large Agri-business and it’s issues with Issue 2. It is unfortunate he didn’t send a letter with that information to every newspaper in Ohio – before the election. Although I live in North-western PA, I have family in Ohio and I shared Mr. Guebert’s concerns with them. They were truely amazed at some of the facts I rattled off to them about Issue 2. They began to look into the Issue and many decided to vote against it. Sad. I agree with the fear that Ohioans, in an effort to avoid out of state conservationists has invited a whole bunch of outside influence into it’s farming community.

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