The loud argument about whether Ohio voters should approve gambling casinos in four state cities, Issue 3, has overshadowed an angry fight aboutanother statewide ballot issue.
Ohio farmers who put Issue 2 on the ballot say they are trying to head off attempts by radical animal activists to impose a vegetarian lifestyle on everyone and drive Ohio-produced meat, eggs and milk off of dinner tables.
The national Humane Society contends the state question's backers seek to preserve cruel treatment of animals that no ordinary person would support, such as caging chickens so tightly they cannot extend their wings or turn around.
If voters approve Issue 2, it will amend the state constitution to create an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to establish standards for the care and well-being of livestock and poultry. One of the goals of such standards is "the protection of local, affordable food supplies for consumers," says the state resolution setting up the ballot question.
The 13-member board would include the state agriculture director, a representative of family farms, a food safety expert, two members representing a statewide farm group, a veterinarian, the state veterinarian and the dean of an agriculture department in a state university. It would also include two people representing state consumers, one person representing a county humane society, a family farmer named by the Ohio House speaker and a family farmer named by the president of the Ohio Senate.
Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said the proposal puts people around the table who will address society's needs, address the needs of farmers and address the well-being of animals.
People are increasingly removed from the farm, and they have certain expectations that farm animals will be well-treated, he said.
"It's our view that the establishment of this board will help meet those expectations," Cornely said.
John Hartman, a Berlin Heights resident, lives and works on a farm that's been in his family for more than 100 years. He raises a variety of food and animal feed crops, maintains an asparagus patch and fattens Angus calves for market.
He said farmers believe they have been targeted by animal activists who have a hidden agenda.
"Livestock farmers in Ohio are pretty much taking a proactive approach rather than a reactive approach with those persons who don't see eye to eye with those of us who choose to eat milk, cheese, eggs," he said.
Similarly, Oxford Township farmer Denny Weilnau says his issue is with the national Humane Society, which he said isn't the same thing as the local humane societies that adopt out cats and dogs.
Weilnau and Cornely say the Humane Society is pushing a vegetarian lifestyle.
"If they win out, we won't have animals in agriculture in the United States," Weilnau said.
While these claims might sound like hyperbole, numerous documents on the national Humane Society's Web site advocate vegetarianism. The society's well-known leader, Wayne Pacelle, is a longtime vegan who frequently speaks and writes in favor of the vegetarian lifestyle.
Earlier this month, for example, Pacelle spoke out in a blog posting.
"Raising 10 billion land animals in the United States annually for food is simply not a sensible plan of action," Pacelle wrote. "The science is clear that a diet that is primarily plant-based is better for our personal health, and it's obviously better for animals and the environment."
Paul Shapiro, a spokesman for the national Humane Society, says the entire humane community in Ohio opposes Issue 2, including major animal shelters and the Cleveland Animal Protective League.
And he said what the Humane Society wants is hardly radical.
"It is standard in the industry to cram chickens into cages where each bird has less space than a single sheet of paper for her to move in her entire life," Shapiro said.
Humane Society proposals enacted in other states simply require that farm animals be allowed to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs, Shapiro said.
"That's it," he said. To claim that such rules would cause an "apocalypse" for farms is "simply not believable," he said.
Another Issue 2 foe, Joe Logan, is the immediate past president of the Ohio Farmers Union and director of agriculture programs for the Ohio Environmental Council.
Logan, who raises cattle, says it's quite possible to treat animals humanely and still produce the eggs and pork that hungry diners want.
"It may require a few more farmers, but that's not a terrible thing," Logan said.