Even if farmers in Ohio ran an effective campaign against it, the chances of defeating a ballot initiative sponsored by a coalition of animal welfare advocates were still only 50-50, according to calculations of the Ohio Farmer Bureau Federation.
Weeks after the OFBF and other farm organizations, the Humane Society of the United States, and Gov. Ted Strickland announced a compromise that resulted in the coalition not proceeding with the ballot measure it said would decrease abusive practices on farms, the issue remains a hot topic in the agriculture community.
Ohioans for Humane Farms was poised to submit more than 500,000 signatures to the secretary of state to meet the June 30 deadline for placing the measure on the November ballot when Gov. Strickland contacted the parties to find an alternative solution.
Under the compromise, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which was established after voters last fall strongly supported Issue 2, will remain the primary vehicle for establishing farm animal care practices.
Major points of the agreement call for:
• A ban on veal crates by 2017 – the same deadline set in the proposed ballot measure.
• A ban on new gestation crates in the state after Dec. 31, 2010. Existing facilities are grandfathered, but must cease use of the crates in 15 years.
• A ban on the transport of downer cows for slaughter.
• A moratorium on permits for new battery cage confinement facilities for laying hens.
• Adopting legislation to establish felony-level penalties for cock fighting.
• Adopting a ban on acquiring dangerous exotic animals as pets and tougher laws for cracking down on puppy mills.
Since the announcement of the agreement, Jack Fisher, OFBF executive vice president, has been promoting it to a constituency that includes some skeptics.
In a July 15 interview with Ohio Country Journal, he is asked why he even sat down to talk with the Humane Society.
He responds that he was ready for a major battle but had to weigh the risk to producers’ reputations in a HSUS campaign that would have included an “onslaught of ugly animal abuse commercials.”
“Never mind that the ads are misleading, they’re proven effective,” he said.
He was also asked why he didn’t ask for the opinion of OFBF members before making a deal.
“The 26 farmers who are OFBF’s trustees are empowered to make decisions on behalf of the organizations, especially in time-sensitive situations. In this case, the trustees gave me a set of guiding principles to follow in discussions with the governor and HSUS. Those principles were to protect the authority of the care board, to preserve unity among farm organizations, to ensure a positive business climate for farmers, to retain bipartisan political support for agriculture’s agenda, and to put farmers and consumers first while discussing humane treatment of animals.”
The OFBF’s own publication, Buckeye Farm News, estimates farmers and others would have had to ante more than $10 million to get their message out in a campaign.
“It took a lot of resources last year (for Issue 2),” Fisher is quoted in the publication. “It would take even more resources this year.”
Opponents to the deal were quick to vent their feelings on the OFBF website.
One blogger said the compromise undermines the intent of establishing the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
“The whole idea that was pitched by the Farm Bureau to the voters was to stop outside organizations from being able to dictate how responsible farmers/breeders care for their animals and that is exactly what is happening now,” he wrote. “Why should responsible animal owners be punished for the deeds that the few non-responsible owners do?’
Another blogger said he was disappointed: “How can I look my neighbors in the eye and tell them everything I’ve been telling them wasn’t worth fighting for? I’ve worked to keep HSUS out of Ohio for nothing.”
Asked if he threw pet breeders and other animal breeders “under the bus,” Fisher told the Ohio Country Journal that he repeatedly told the Humane Society that the Farm Bureau had no standing to represent any breeders other than livestock.
Non-livestock issues will be addressed by the Humane Society, governor’s office, and the appropriate state agencies, he said, adding the OFBF opposes cock fighting.
The Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Ohio Soybean Association, and Ohio Corn Growers Association also had representatives at the negotiations.
Roger Wise, president of the Ohio Farmer’s Union, said his organization wasn’t actively involved in the negotiations but called the compromise good for family farmers and consumers.
Wayne Parcell, president and chief executive officer of the HSUS, said the agreement ``…moves us forward on all of the components of the proposed ballot measure as well as other important advances for animals, too.”
John Dinon, executive director of the Toledo Area Humane Society and president of the board of directors of Ohioans for Humane Farms, said he was disappointed action on battery cages will be delayed but called the agreement “…a great victory Ohio’s animals and animal advocates.”
If the agreement isn’t honored, Parcell reminded supporters of the ballot measure that their signatures remain valid and an initiative can be pursued in 2011 or 2012.
The Livestock Care Standards Board includes representatives of family farms, farm organizations, food safety experts, veterinarians, consumers, a dean of the agriculture department at an Ohio college, and representative of a county humane society.
Keith Stimpert, senior vice president public policy for the farm bureau, said his organization’s primary goal was to “fortify” the role of the standards board.
“Ohio agriculture worked hard to establish this board and now the board will have time to work,” he said. “All livestock standard provisions in the agreement between agriculture and HSUS are characterized as recommendations to the board. Recognizing the role of the board in considering and setting policy related to the treatment of farm animals raised for food in Ohio was a very important outcome.”
Supporters of Issue 2 last year said it would provide a comprehensive but flexible mechanism to address animal care issues.
Opponents said it represented a power grab by Ohio’s agri-business industry and was an attempt to thwart efforts to improve treatment of animals on large factory farms. Opponents also said it wasn’t appropriate to establish the livestock board through the state constitution.