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Published: Tuesday, 10/27/2009

Issue 2 opponents slow to mount campaign

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — The battle over the treatment of farm livestock animals has so far been decidedly one-sided with opponents showing little sign of raising funds to counter TV ads promoting the ballot issue.

Issue 2 asks voters to write into the Ohio constitution a new 13-member board to develop standards for the treatment of livestock animals, including those raised for beef, veal, pork, poultry, and eggs.

The agribusiness backers of Issue 2 have aired three commercials and may air three more before next Tuesday's election.

“[The pro-Issue 2 faction has] raised about $4 million, and about $1.2 million of that is from out-of-state big agribusiness. They have so much money for TV ads, but we're focusing on grass-roots efforts, using volunteers to spread the word,” said Sarah Alexander, spokesman for Food and Water Watch and the broader Ohio Against Constitutional Takeover coalition.

The opposition coalition — consisting of the Ohio Farmers Union, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farming Association, Ohio Sierra Club, and Food and Water Watch — has not registered as a political action or issue advocacy committee to solicit campaign contributions.

Ohioans for Livestock Care, the pro-Issue 2 group, has reported raising $3.6 million—$4 million counting noncash in-kind help — for its campaign to persuade voters to write a new state regulatory panel into the state constitution.

Through Oct. 14, the group spent $2.8 million, boasting that its campaign has drawn contributions from 2,100 donors. Opponents, however, noted that 50 large farm groups, food producers, and related agribusinesses were responsible for two-thirds of the dollars raised.

Contributors and organizations based in Iowa, Georgia, Minnesota, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, and North Carolina have weighed in to financially support the ballot issue.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, an organization that is more likely to represent large farms than the opposing Ohio Farmers Union, contributed more than $505,000 to the effort. The Georgia-based United Egg Producers contributed $200,000 and the Iowa-based National Pork Producers Council gave $150,000.

“They are definitely looking to Ohio,” said pro-Issue 2 consultant Alan Melamed. “There is a concern in the agricultural community about the ad hoc approach of scare tactics rather than using science and best practice to ensure that Ohio is going to be able to provide safe, affordable food for not only America but the world.”

The D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States, which is not directly affiliated with its county counterparts, has had success in enacting laws in seven states, including Michigan, that reform livestock practices, either through ballot issues or legislative action.

Generally, those laws targeted the confinement of calves for veal, breeding hogs, and laying poultry, requiring that these animals have enough room in their cages or pens to stand, lie down, turn around, or extend their limbs or wings.

Rather than negotiate as Michigan agribusiness recently did, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the organization most likely to represent large farms, convinced lawmakers to instead put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

The national humane society has threatened to push its own constitutional amendment next year to override Issue 2 if it passes.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com,or 614-221-0496.



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