Showdown expected in Ohio over farm standards evolves into a deal

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2010:
COLUMBUS–Instead of shaking hands and
coming out fighting on the November 2010 Ohio
state ballot, representatives of the Ohioans for
Humane Farms coalition and the Ohio Farm Bureau
Federation on June 30, 2010 shook hands with
Ohio Governor Ted Strickland over a truce that
leaves the proposed ballot issues to be arbited
by the newly formed Ohio Livestock Care Standards
That the industry-controlled Ohio
Livestock Care Standards Board rather than voters
should control farm animal conditions was a goal
sought by agribusiness for more than two years.

But Ohioans for Humane Farms gained leverage
after collecting nearly half a million petition
signatures in support of a farm animal welfare
initiative similar to one passed by more than 60%
of the vote in California in 2008. The petition
signatures were not submitted to qualify the
initiative for the 2010 ballot, but may still be
submitted if in the future the Ohioans for Humane
Farms coalition members are dissatisfied with the
work of the Ohio Livestock Standards Board.
Opinion polls showed that the Ohioans for
Humane Farms initiative had a strong chance of
passage–but only following a bruising and costly
“What we’ve arrived at here is a very
common sense solution,” Strickland told media.
“It’s recognition that we live in the real world,
and that we want to try to do better, to
accomplish a worthy goal without damage to the
agricultural economy of our state.”
More than 35,000 farms in Ohio
annually raise about 30 million animals.
The provisions of the pact between
Ohioans for Humane Farms and the Ohio Farm Bureau
Federation, heading a seven-member coalition of
agribusiness groups, include phasing out the use
of veal crates by 2017, as specified by the
initiative petition; banning the use of new sow
gestation crates after December 31, 2010, and
requiring existing pig farms to stop using them
by 2025; imposing a moratorium on issuing
permits to build new battery cage facilities for
laying hens; banning the transport of downed
cattle to slaughter; and banning methods of
culling farm animals that do not meet the
American Veterinary Medical Association standards
for humane euthanasia.
In addition, the Ohio Farm Bureau
Federation et al agreed to support the passage of
a bill passed by the Ohio House of
Representatives in December 2009 that would make
cockfighting a felony. Ohio is among 11 states
that now lack felony penalties for cockfighting.
Some agribusiness representatives have
historically opposed criminalizing cockfighting
as a potential precedent for imposing humane
standards on the poultry industry.
Further, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation
et al agreed to support a pending bill to
increase regulation of puppy breeders. Puppy
breeders have historically sought to be regulated
in a manner similar to farmers who produce
animals for slaughter, rather than under the
more stringent regimens that most states apply to
keeping pets.
Finally the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation
et al are to support an administrative order that
Strickland pledged to issue against keeping or
selling exotic and/or dangerous species as pets,
including nonhuman primates, bears, lions,
tigers, constricting and venomous snakes, and
crocodilians. Farm lobbyists have historically
opposed restrictions on what species may be bred
for sale.
The deal pertaining to puppy mills upset
Ohio animal advocates who had hoped that the
pending bill would be expanded to prohibit dog
Strickland’s pledge to ban breeding and
keeping exotic or dangerous animals as pets ired
both the exotic pet industry and fans of the
Masillon Tigers, a high school football team
that carries on the name, emblems, and mascot
tradition of one of the first pro football teams.
Strickland quickly amended his pledge to include
an exemption for mascots.
“The Humane Society of the U.S.,”
heading Ohioans for Humane Farms, “has also cut
such deals in Maine, Oregon, Colorado and
Michigan. Three states have passed ballot
measures similar to the Ohio initiative,” noted
Julie Carr Smythe of Associated Press.
“We made progress for farm animals
without having to go to the ballot box,”
assessed Farm Sanctuary founder Gene Bauer. “As
in Michigan last year, when we initiated a
similar initiative campaign, the industry was
compelled to come to the table, and the animals
won. We will monitor the situation closely,”
Bauer pledged, “and if need be, we can still
submit the signatures we’ve already gathered and
get on the ballot. But with this agreement,”
Bauer said, “agribusiness in Ohio is committed
to change for farm animals, and is taking steps
needed to eliminate confinement systems and end
some of the most egregious abuses.”
Mercy for Animals founder Nathan Runkle e-mailed a parallel statement.
“This is a very sweeping array of
reforms, none of which would have occurred in
Ohio without the dedication and success of the
signature gatherers,” said Paul Shapiro, senior
factory farming campaign director for the Humane
Society of the U.S.
“Although I am a bit disappointed that
action on battery cages will be delayed due to
the compromise, I still consider this a great
victory for Ohio’s animals and animal advocates,”
said Toledo Area Humane Society executive
director and Ohioans for Humane Farms board
president John Dinon.
Ohio voters created the Ohio Livestock
Care Standards Board in November 2009 by
ratifying a constitutional amendment proposed by
the state legislature, at urging of
agribusiness. The board was charged with
establishing care standards for pigs, cattle,
sheep, goats, poultry, and llamas, to be
enforced by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Farmers found to be in violation of the standards
may receive civil penalties.
Ten of the 13 members of the Ohio
Livestock Care Standards Board are gubernatorial
appointments, ratified by the Ohio senate. The
director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture is
guaranteed a seat. The last two members are
appointed by the Speaker of the Ohio House and
the Ohio Senate President.
Strickland in April 2010 named to the
board eight farmers and consultants to
agribusiness, plus Ohio Association of Second
Harvest Foodbanks executive director Lisa M.
Hamler-Fugitt, and Harold Dates, longtime
president of the Cincinnati SPCA.
Dates was on the American Humane
Association board of directors when the AHA
introduced a farm product certification program
in 2000. In early 2003, after Dates’ AHA board
tenure ended, program founder Adele Douglass
left the AHA to start Humane Farm Animal Care,
with the support of HSUS and the American SPCA.
The AHA program thereafter moved closer to
accepting standard agribusiness procedures.
Ohio Department of Agriculture director
Robert Boggs in May 2010 told Columbus Dispatch
reporter Alan Johnson that the board expected to
begin with an agenda including about two-thirds
of the issues that the backers of the proposed
Ohio farm animal welfare initiative were then
petitioning to place on the 2010 state ballot.
“We would love to have the livestock
board handle those issues and obviate the need
for the ballot issue,” responded Humane Society
of the U.S. president Wayne Pacelle.

Strategy session

When the petition drive in support of the
farm animal welfare ballot measure appeared
certain to succeed, a conference among the
leadership of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation,
Ohio Pork Producers Council, Ohio Cattlemen’s
Association, Ohio Dairy Producers Association,
Ohio Poultry Association, Ohio Corn Growers
Association and Ohio Soybean Association
concluded that fighting the ballot measure might
not be worth the cost.
“A victory by farmers would have dealt a
blow to HSUS but certainly would not have ended
the group’s efforts,” explained an Ohio Farm
Bureau Federation position statement. “A defeat
could have shuttered a large portion of Ohio pork
and egg production. Decades of investment and
gains farmers have made in building relationships
with the publicŠcould have been wiped away by a
multimillion dollar blitz of television
commercials that inundate consumers with horrific
images of animal abuse. On top of that, HSUS
was putting in place its plans to connect farmers
to environmental and health problems, to divide
the farm and veterinary communities, and to
gather endorsements from religious leaders, a
tactic to imply that contemporary livestock
production is immoral. Consumer trust in
agriculture was going to be shaken.
“Ohio Farm Bureau’s board of trustees
grappled with these issues over the course of two
days,” the position statement continued. “They
ultimately decided that if the organization was
going to consider an alternative to the ballot
box,” any deal they reached should preserve the
political alliance of agribusiness organizations,
protect “the full authority of the Ohio Livestock
Care Standards Board,” and maintain bipartisan
political support.
“Rather than risk the viability of farms
at the ballot box,” the Ohio Farm Bureau
Federation added, “the farm groups said that
issuing a recommendation to the Livestock Care
Standards Board to phase out existing [pig
gestation] stalls by 2025 was a reasonable
approach. The stalls have a life-span of 15
years, so farmers who have recently built barns
would be able to recoup their full investment. In
addition, HSUS wanted a constitutional mandate
that veal calves be kept in group housing. The
American Veal Association had already said that
it supported moving to group housing by 2017.
HSUS was also seeking constitutional language
that would essentially ban cages for chickens,”
the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation explained. “Farm
groups said they were willing to recommend to the
livestock board that existing farms with cages be
allowed to keep and expand their facilities, as
new cage operations are put on hold while further
research, jointly funded by agriculture and
HSUS, is done to evaluate housing options.”

“Serve a salad”

Farm organizations outside the coalition
assembled by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation were
less happy with the deal.
“Farmers across the country were looking
to Ohio as a model for dealing with animal rights
activists and creating livestock care standards,”
fumed 21-year Farm & Dairy editor Susan Crowell.
“No, let’s have them over for dinner, instead.
Just be sure to serve a salad.”
“Right now the only people who are
telling HSUS that they did the wrong thing are
the really hardcore vegans who didn’t think HSUS
twisted the screws enough,” agreed David
Martosko, research director for the
pro-agribusiness Center for Consumer Freedom, in
comments to Ohio Farmer.
“There are about a dozen other states
that have followed Ohio’s lead setting up
livestock boards,” Martosko said. “The problem,
though, is that their standards are all a little
bit different. HSUS is ultimately going to use
this against agriculture. They are going to go to
the federal government and say ‘Look, we’ve got
a dozen competing different standards; we need
to unify them with a federal standard.'”
Strickland, Martosko charged, “wanted
[farm animal welfare standards] off the ballot
desperately. He had political advisors telling
him that if this was on the ballot it was going
to hurt him because you have every rural voter in
the state coming out to polls in November. Being
that rural Ohioans are more Republicans than
Democrats by a wide margin, you would have had a
lot of people coming for the polls to vote
against HSUS,” and voting against Strickland, a
Democrat, too.
Rural Ohio voters–18% of the state
electorate–were credited with swinging several
close elections to Republicans in recent years,
but Ohio voter registration now favors Democrats
by a 16% margin. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation
position statement indicated that the strategy
Martosko envisioned had been considered but
rejected, since pursuing an political strategy
that favored rural Republicans over urban
Democrats might lose after alienating the winners.

HFA dissents

Early in the Ohioans for Humane Farms
petition drive, HSUS president Pacelle credited
an undercover investigation by the Humane Farming
Association with helping to kindle the campaign.
But Humane Farming Association president Brad
Miller was also unhappy about the outcome.
“Countless well-meaning people worked
their butts off gathering signatures for
something that they were told would outlaw
battery cages. But they were merely being used
as pawns,” Miller told ANIMAL PEOPLE.
“Throughout the entire process,” Miller charged,
“HSUS was trying to cut a deal that would allow
them to claim some kind of victory without ever
waging a real campaign.
“In exchange for some feeble
recommendations from the Farm Bureau and some
political cover from the governor on unrelated
issues, HSUS has now openly embraced the mission
and purpose of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards
Board,” Miller said. “In other words, the
industry achieved its primary objective. Not one
thing that HSUS and Farm Sanctuary claim to have
achieved for farm animals here is real,” Miller
charged, “or anything more than a polished-off
restatement of things that were already taking
place, such as the American Veal Association’s
voluntary phase out of veal crates.
“Lost on many people is that the unsigned
agreement is entirely non-binding. It is worth
less than the paper it is written on, and is
likely to be added to and subtracted from for
weeks, months, and/or years to come. And you
can be damn sure,” Miller finished, “that it
won’t be for the better.”

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