Lessons from the Ohio Issue 2 vote

Producers must continue to take positive steps to exclude agents of extremist animal rights organizations.

As reported on the WATTAgNet Web site on Wednesday, November 4, the result of the Ohio Issue 2 ballot was a complete reversal of the California Proposition 2 of 2008. The margin of 64% to 36% in favor of the constitutional amendment to create a Livestock Care Status Board is in stark contrast to passage of California Proposition 2 which, depending on interpretation of the ambiguous wording, bans confinement housing of laying hens and other livestock.

Since it is assumed that American voters are equally capable of deciding on an issue and voting according to their life experiences and their response to pre-election publicity one must question the results recorded in the two states. There are obvious lessons to be learned from the Ohio endeavor which has direct application to other states faced with initiatives to ban caged housing of laying hens sponsored by HSUS and its affiliates.

  • It is necessary to be proactive and to preempt the HSUS. When the Washington- based organization threatened to mount a California Proposition 2-style voter initiative for the mid-term election in 2010, agricultural groups lead by the Ohio Farm Bureau reacted aggressively and presented voters with a rational proposal which engendered broad support in 2009 one year before the intended HSUS action.
  • Pre-election activities must be proactive and coordinated. Prior to the 2008 California ballot, the organization responsible for opposing the initiative basically reacted to HSUS statements and fought a rear guard action right through to the election.
  • It is essential to develop a broad coalition to promote a platform to support intensive livestock production. The Ohio Farm Bureau worked with agribusiness groups and established a Livestock Care Political Action Committee.
  • Specific relevant issues must be selected and highlighted. It was clearly stated that the objective of the proposed Livestock Care Standards Board would be to establish standards based on scientific principles and have broad participation from farmers, veterinarians, consumer groups and animal welfare organizations domiciled in the state of Ohio. Pre-election publicity stressed the need for a rational approach to livestock welfare and focused on the specific issue of confinement. In California the coalition opposing Proposition 2 initially based their program fallaciously on the health issue which was easily refuted by proponents of the proposition.
  • Effective spokespersons are critical to acceptance of the principles promoting an issue. The Ohio Farm Bureau was fortunate in having available good writers and communicators. John C. Fisher the Executive President of the OFB outclassed Wayne Pacelle of HSUS in a pre-election debate, clearly articulating issues and challenging HSUS to refute the notion that their ultimate objective is to enforce a vegan lifestyle on citizens irrespective of their wishes.
  • Media buys were carefully placed in time and directed to urban areas where voters were unfamiliar with acceptable modern farming practices and would have been most susceptible to distorted and non-factual propaganda.
  • Individually and collectively the Ohio Egg Producers did their utmost to educate legislators, consumer groups and the media as to the realities of modern egg production with visits to farms and distributing videos.

HSUS has vowed to return with a Proposition 2-style initiative in 2010. Accordingly the Battle of 2009 has been won but the War continues. The Ohio State Livestock Standards Board must be constituted as soon as possible and began its deliberations, issuing appropriate scientifically supported standards during the first quarter of 2010. Egg producers must exercise their best endeavors to eliminate any undesirable practices and conform to the regulations which are issued.

Since the HSUS and its affiliates will make every attempt to discredit standards by publicizing videos purporting to show maltreatment, producers should take positive steps to exclude agents of extremist animal rights organizations. Visits by legislators, consumer groups and representatives of the media should be encouraged. Above all there should be no further appeasement or capitulation to threats made by the HSUS. The Ohio vote shows that HSUS can be defeated with appropriate planning, a suitable strategy and enthusiastic pre-election campaigning.