Like the animals trapped in the feed lots and the cages of Confined Animal Feeding Operations, we are trapped in the finely woven web of an industrial food system that dominates our grocery stores, limits our food choices and controls the family dinner table. The promoters of Issue 2 want to keep it that way.
Amending the Ohio Constitution is a serious matter. Yet this is what the passage of Issue 2 would do. Although Ohio's major newspapers have all written in opposition to Issue 2, many urban folks remain confused and uninformed about it, with only a few weeks before the November election. The slick promotional materials of the Farm Bureau have carefully disguised their agenda.
The Farm Bureau and the agri-industries they represent are working overtime to pass this amendment. The language they use and the ways in which they position their arguments are misleading, if not absolutely false. This amendment is not an effort to protect farmers. It will not address issues of animal husbandry. Instead, it will guarantee that industrial farming, which includes confined animal feeding operations known as CAFOs, will be legitimized and protected by our state constitution.
If the 13-member, politically appointed board created by Issue 2 is put in place, it will have unprecedented power. Citizens will no longer be able to petition their legislators to write and pass legislation affecting agriculture and our food supply. Instead, the power will be in the hands of 13 people, who for the most part will be chosen from the very industry they are supposed to regulate. Truly the fox will be guarding the hen house.
Those who oppose the industrial model of food production have made animal cruelty the major issue. The Farm Bureau and the agri-industries insist that this is an emotional issue and that those who oppose Issue 2 are vegetarians and vegans who want to eliminate animal products from our diet. This is a case of over-simplification, if not a bold-faced lie.
I am not associated with the Farm Bureau, and I am not an animal-rights advocate in the PETA model. I am, however, very familiar with both sides of food and farming. I grew up on a farm. I owned a restaurant where local, sustainably produced food was the foundation of the menu. I now work on special projects for Innovative Farmers of Ohio and other sustainable farming groups. In my work, I have seen the ravages of industrial-type agriculture. And despite what the Farm Bureau tells us, we do not need an industrial system to meet the demands of our citizens.
Animals are sometimes restrained. Animals, like humans, are sometimes in need of medication and care from veterinarians. Animals are sometimes physically altered in ways that will make their lives better and safer and healthier as they grow. Docking the tails of lambs is hardly more serious than male circumcision. Similarly, horns are removed from some animals so that they can live comfortably with others. We put braces on our teeth and sometimes endure oral surgeries when we are young to prevent dental problems in adulthood. Is this a form of cruelty? Calves are separated or restrained to prevent their bullying each other, overeating and, worst of all, engaging in some rather gross behaviors caused by the sucking instinct. Children are strapped into car seats to protect them. Do we call the restraining cruel?
The point is, none of this is being challenged by opponents of Issue 2. We are opposing harsh, unnecessary treatment of animals for the purpose of increasing production and lowering the cost of food products.
Consumers should understand the powerful role that the USDA has in our food system, which is based on corn. Corn production is subsidized by the USDA. Our tax dollars are at work in the food system — at work for agri-industries. Corn provides cheap, abundant animal feed. Poultry, beef, lamb and pork can be produced easily and in less time if the animals are confined and force-fed. But because these animal production systems are unnatural, the animals are kept alive with the aid of mass quantities of antibiotics. When we eat animal products from these industrial systems, we ingest the residue from the antibiotics.
Rural economies and rural communities have been devastated by the advent of factory farms. A confinement dairy of 1000 cows can be managed by several low-paid hourly employees. Factory farms are more often owned by corporations than by farmers. Factory farms contribute very little to local economies. Trucks bringing mass quantities of cheap corn to the CAFO damage roads that rural communities cannot afford to repair or maintain.
But the worst impact of a factory farm is its effect on the environment. The volume of waste from a large CAFO can equal that of a small city. Feed lots where large numbers of animals spend months being fattened on cheap corn create mounds of waste in which they must stand. Rain washes waste from these feed lots into the soil and eventually into streams and rivers. This run-off will eventually reach a major river and an ocean. The result of continued run-off from the Midwest is an 80-mile-wide dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico where aquatic life is no longer viable.
Corn plays a role in this too. The CAFOs' demand for corn results in mono-cropping, meaning that the land is never rejuvenated with cover crops that can put nutrients into the soil. There is no crop rotation. Corn is planted and raised with artificial inputs year after year, and run-off from these farms includes staggering amounts of fertilizer and pesticides.
Cheap corn produced in abundance has also become a major ingredient in our food. Corn syrup is ubiquitous. Many products — snacks, salad dressings, ice cream, sauces of every kind, breakfast cereals and especially soft drinks — are all laced with high-fructose corn syrup.
One in four America children is now classified as obese. Some blame their parents. Others claim this is genetic. Lack of exercise is another frequently cited cause. Who are we kidding? It is the kinds of food these children eat, and we know where, how and why that food is produced. It is the industrial system championed by the Farm Bureau and the agri-businesses they support — the same forces behind Issue 2.
Rather than amending our state's constitution now, we should engage in debate. Both sides of this tug-of-war should come to the table, listen to each other and make reasonable concessions. The ways animals are treated is only one part of this very big issue. Both sides need to reconsider their points of view regarding animal care and true animal husbandry.
Until then, Ohioans should vote no on 2. Vote for our children, our natural resources, our health and our future.
Parker Bosley was owner and chef of Parker's New American Bistro in Cleveland, which closed in 2007, and an early leader in the sustainable food movement.