Issue 2 is not about animals, it's about industry power

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"Things are seldom what they seem, skim milk masquerades as cream ..." — from Gilbert & Sullivan's HMS Pinafore

Earlier this year, two large farm pigs came to Geauga Humane Society's Rescue Village, where I work as the executive director. Minnie and Cricket already had star credentials, having been featured in the HBO documentary Death on a Factory Farm. In this difficult-to-watch film, the public saw what life (and death) is like for animals being raised for food on one of the big factory farms in Ohio.

So the fact that Issue 2 in Ohio has kicked up such a firestorm of controversy is not surprising. People in urban, suburban and rural areas, including farmers, are more concerned with food than ever before — what we eat, how it is grown, what goes into it and, when it involves meat, how the animals are treated. And of course, farmers and all of us are concerned about economic survival as well.

I have read wild claims that Issue 2 pits vegans against meat-eating and meat-producing farmers. If they could speak, Minnie and Cricket would call this hogwash!

The fact is that opponents of Issue 2 — just like the general population — run the gamut from happy carnivores to vegetarians to vegans. The Issue 2 debate does not break down based on what is on our dinner plates. Just about everyone on both sides of this issue is concerned about improving the standards that govern care and treatment of livestock and poultry. But saying "just about everyone" is not the same as "everyone."

Hard-fought battles were waged in Michigan and California to win even small reforms in the laws governing standards. No, not everyone agrees that laying hens should live in cages bigger than a sheet of notebook paper. Not everyone agrees that livestock should be able to turn around or lie down comfortably. Most everyone agrees, but not everyone. This is where the power of big agribusiness comes in.

It is no secret that big agribusiness emphasizes profits. However, it is possible to provide humane conditions and care without breaking the bank. Humane treatment can be cost-effective.

In our state, an amazing thing has happened. In Ohio, one of the centers for big agribusiness, there has seemingly been a miracle. Issue 2 came up and got on the ballot in what felt like record time. Before anyone could catch their breath, we had a massively funded campaign to convince the voters to make a constitutional change. And what's more, the language of that change seemed almost too good to be true. Here in Ohio, we are going to get to vote on having it in our constitution that there would be a 13-person board regulating standards — a board that would allegedly see that livestock and poultry were treated more humanely. Suddenly this state, which has been so stubbornly backward on standards and laws protecting animals, seemed to be born-again animal-welfare fans.

Curiously though, not a single humane society was contacted or consulted in the creation of Issue 2. This was strange, given that it is the humane societies that enforce anti-cruelty laws in most Ohio counties. So I asked myself: Would the Minnies and Crickets of this world benefit from passing Issue 2 and enshrining this 13-member board in the state constitution?

That board will sit above the voters, with no accountability, no oversight (not even from the Ohio General Assembly) and no guarantee that it will involve people, or enough people, who are not tied to the narrow political and economic interests of big agribusiness.

If you ask me, Issue 2 is both a response to the small reforms that have been won in other states and a precedent-setting power move. If Issue 2 passes, it will be much harder to challenge the status quo. This indeed would not benefit Minnie and Cricket. Things are seldom what they seem; this is a case of skim milk masquerading as cream. Vote no on Issue 2.

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Supporters of Issue 2 like to claim that their opponents want to force veganism on Ohioans. That's nonsense, of course, but even this wing-and-burger-lovin' omnivore is thinking about cutting back after reading this report from the Worldwatch Institute. Seems that our bottomless appetite for meat may be even worse for the planet than our obsession with SUVs:

Whenever the causes of climate change are discussed, fossil fuels top the list. Oil, natural gas and especially coal are indeed major sources of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs). But we believe that the life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of GHGs, and in fact account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs. If this argument is right, it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations — and thus on the rate the climate is warming — than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.

Livestock are already well-known to contribute to GHG emissions. Livestock's Long Shadow, the widely-cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs and poultry. That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look in the search for ways to address climate change. But our analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2e per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.

... [L]ivestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe. Moreover, while over time an equilibrium of CO2 may exist between the amount respired by animals and the amount photosynthesized by plants, that equilibrium has never been static. Today, tens of billions more livestock are exhaling CO2 than in pre-industrial days, while Earth's photosynthetic capacity (its capacity to keep carbon out of the atmosphere by absorbing it in plant mass) has declined sharply as forest has been cleared. (Meanwhile, of course, we add more carbon to the air by burning fossil fuels, further overwhelming the carbon-absorption system.)

Full report available at

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