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Wenonah Hauter

Wenonah Hauter

Posted: July 2, 2010 02:56 PM

Keeping Score: Big Ag 1, Democracy 0

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Last November, agribusiness scored a victory that goes beyond a simple electoral win: Issue 2 in Ohio passed, which not only created a livestock care standards board to counteract a groundswell of support to overhaul factory farming, but did so by amending the state constitution. This board, packed with members that would make Cargill, Smithfield, and Tyson proud, now has free reign to dictate how livestock are raised in Ohio, with state regulators enforcing whatever rules they establish.

This is on my mind all too much today. A few weeks ago, I was summoned to the offices of the Ohio Election Commission to defend my organization, Food & Water Watch, from complaints that we provided false information in a campaign commercial against Issue 2 last year. Yesterday evening, on the heels of the Ohio Farm Bureau resolving its dispute with the Humane Society of the United States, I was informed that the complaint had been dropped. It was a victory for us, but the underlying message behind the months-long intimidation was still clear.

We told the truth -- that the measure would enable corporate agribusiness to further threaten public health with diseases such as e. coli and swine flu, give unaccountable political appointees the power to bankrupt Ohio's family farms, and make the corruption permanent by amending the state constitution. Big Ag supporters objected to that message.

When Big Ag wants to regulate itself, it will go after anyone that gets in its way.

The Farm Bureau and their allies were so afraid of the truth that they attempted to use their financial clout to silence criticism and suppress our constitutional right to freedom of speech. They pressured radio stations to drop our ad opposing Issue 2. They filed complaints with the state election commission in an attempt to intimidate us, even after it was clear they were going to win and pass Issue 2 at the polls.

Where is the livestock board's bread buttered? Large agribusiness trade associations, such as the Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Poultry Association, and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation made large contributions to support Issue 2 in the run up to the election. In fact, they outspent the coalition fighting it 40 to 1.

Their campaign, like the name, was truly Orwellian in nature. The handful of folks now overseeing livestock policy in Ohio were brought to power through obfuscation and double speak that was aimed at thwarting humane animal care movements gaining traction nationwide. After other states like California imposed regulations on factory farm operations, Ohio declared it would create a livestock care standards board that would have the power to set standards "governing the care and well-being of livestock and poultry."

Most Ohioans who voted in favor of Issue 2 would be shocked to know that while agribusiness claimed to be protecting small farmers and consumers, the real winners are the large corporations that control meat production. By pouring millions of dollars into a media campaign misrepresenting the goals of Issue 2, the industry essentially "bought" the right to regulate itself and to circumvent the Ohio constitution and existing state and federal regulations pertaining to factory farmed animals.

Thanks to agribusiness's success in subverting Ohio's constitution, boards like this might be coming to your state soon.

Kentucky, Indiana, Utah, Missouri, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Vermont have considered the creation of livestock care standards boards, some in the vein of Ohio, and we anticipate more movement in these states to thwart state and federal regulations to serve the interests of big agribusiness.

What can you do to stop it?

The groundswell of support for changes to factory farming regulations must be redoubled. It's no longer enough to "vote with your fork," either. Now, more than ever, citizens need to be more fully engaged in the food policy. It's important that Americans get involved in the upcoming farm bill reauthorization, which to-date has been a playground of giveaways to Big Ag. Also, tell the Department of Justice, who along with the USDA are organizing hearings about competition in the agricultural sector, that you are concerned about the lack of competition in our food system that puts small farmers at the mercy of corporate meat companies.

The forces working against a healthy food system were powerful before. Now they are operating above the law in Ohio, and must be stopped before this dangerous scheme is adopted in other states.

This post originally appeared at Food & Water Watch's blog.