As the year comes to an end it’s become a tradition of mine to write a note of gratitude to Big Ag for the many ‘gifts’ they’ve given us throughout the year that we didn’t really want, need or – in some cases – didn’t even know about. Here’s my top 10 for 2012... #10 – Undermining Organic With Industrial Practices Many people are putting their faith in the “certified organic” label as an easy way to support farming systems that care about animal welfare, our health and the health of the planet. But the popularity of organic food is attracting industrial-scale operators who are exploiting the organic regulations for their own short-term gains. In October, news broke that a large-scale “organic” egg producer was being sued for making misleading marketing claims about the welfare of its chickens. Judy's Family Farm Organic Eggs’ cartons feature images of hens roaming on green fields, while the carton explains the hens are “raised in wide open spaces in Sonoma Valley, where they are free to ‘roam, scratch, and play’.” Yet it’s alleged that the birds are kept in covered sheds with no outdoor access, misleading consumers. Sadly, this isn’t an isolated incident...
Much to our dismay, Issue 2 has passed in Ohio. AWA will be monitoring the situation to see if other states try to enact similar Livestock Control Boards. Keep checking our blog for updates.
As Program Director for Animal Welfare Approved, a free third-party food label that certifies family farms raising their animals outdoors using high-welfare practices, I generally sit out ballot box battles over farm animal welfare. Our efforts at Animal Welfare Approved focus on supporting sustainable family farms, high-welfare production and consumer education.
So the fact that I’m going to ask Ohioans to vote against Issue 2 this coming Tuesday will seem unusual to those who know me and my organization. But the case is clear. Our farmers are telling me that Issue 2 is not what it seems and attention should be paid.
The basic problem with Issue 2 is summed up by Animal Welfare Approved farmer Dennis Adams of Cota Farms in Cardington. He says: “Issue 2 is not about farm animals, it’s about control. The measure is a fake, a sham.”
Animal Welfare Approved is proud to occupy the middle ground, a place where family farmers raise their animals using high-welfare practices without compromising quality, farm viability, price or the planet. The middle ground is built on trust, transparency and choice. Consumers get to know and trust our farmers. Consumers can trust Animal Welfare Approved to be open and honest about the work we do. It works. Imagine that openness and trust disappearing behind a non-elected panel protected by a state constitution.
Pasture-based dairy farmer Warren Taylor of Snowville Creamery has become an outspoken opponent of Issue 2. “Issue 2 is about letting one group control and limit choices in the marketplace,” he states. Animal Welfare Approved farmer Phil Sherry of Nothing But Nature Farm in Oakwood, concurs. “Issue 2 is taking advantage of the fact that people care deeply about animals and want to see them treated well. But what Issue 2 will really do is take away our rights as consumers. And that won’t help farm animals.”
According to Taylor, the principles behind Issue 2 are “fundamentally anti-democratic and anti-diversity.” His concern is that the measure would further agribusiness practices without giving the public any recourse. Adams backs him up, saying, “As far as I can tell, the only thing that will change with the passage of Issue 2 is that it will be harder to change laws that benefit large, conventional agriculture. I don’t see anything in the measure that assures me animals will benefit; in fact, what I see is a measure designed to make sure nothing happens.”
Taylor believes that ensuring farm animal welfare should be driven by consumers equipped with the knowledge to make informed decisions when purchasing their food. “Democracy implies that people have a right and even a responsibility to know and influence how their food is produced, processed, labeled, inspected, regulated, and subsidized. Issue 2 is asking people to give up that right.”
I agree with Warren Taylor. The Animal Welfare Approved program has experienced tremendous growth because consumers have access to information and exercise their rights. We are strong proponents of truth-in-labeling and transparency and we live our ideals by making our standards freely available on our website. Our success depends on a wealth of information, not on a lack of information. Information arms consumers with the knowledge to make choices, and they do.
Over the past year, the number of farmers’ markets has increased by 13%. The market for 100% grassfed beef has grown considerably; it’s becoming mainstream. Conversely, the market for crated veal plummeted after consumers became aware of production practices that they found unsettling and indefensible. All of these changes have greatly benefitted farm animals and none have come about by way of a hastily conceived ballot measure.
Issue 2 is the knee-jerk response of agribusiness to what it sees as an animal rights end run around their best interests. It has nothing to do with the welfare of farm animals or the protection of family farmers. What Issue 2 will really do is limit the ability of consumers to vote with their dollars by concentrating power and decision making in the hands of 13 non-elected, politically appointed board members.
Vote No on Issue 2.
Andrew Gunther is Program Director for Animal Welfare Approved. The Animal Welfare Approved program and food label promote the well-being of animals and the sustainability of humane family farms, uniting conscientious consumers with farmers who raise their animals with respect. The Animal Welfare Approved program was recently lauded by the World Society for the Protection of Animals as having the highest animal welfare standards of any third party certifier in the US. www.AnimalWelfareApproved.org