Ohio livestock groups, HSUS strike deal on ballot initiative

By Stewart Doan

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Columbus,OH, June 30 – Seven months after Ohio agriculture groups convinced 64 percent of Buckeye voters that it was wrong to let an out-of-state activist force its agenda on the state’s livestock and poultry growers, the same groups have struck a deal with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) on animal welfare and handling reforms. In return, HSUS will not pursue a ballot initiative this fall in Ohio.


The compromise is not legally binding.


"This agreement represents a joint effort to find common ground.  As a result, Ohio agriculture will remain strong and animals will be treated better," Gov. Ted Strickland said at a news conference Wednesday in Columbus, flanked by Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF), representing the Ohioans for Livestock Care coalition, and Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of HSUS, neither of whom seemed happy to be there, based on their body language.


The compromise preserves the integrity of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board approved by voters in November and provides recommendations on animal welfare and animal care standards.  


"It allows Ohio farmers to continue producing safe, local, affordable food for Ohio consumers,” Fisher emphasized.


In an interview with Agri-Pulse, Fisher said the coalition that spearheaded passage of State Issue 2 last year was committed to defeating HSUS’s planned factory farming initiative, but ultimately decided it would have come at a high cost with no guarantees. 


“Ballot initiatives are quite expensive – both in people time and in real dollars,” he explained. With HSUS throwing its considerable financial resources into Ohio, Fisher acknowledged that the cost of this year’s campaign was going to be “extremely high, much higher than last year,” when OFBF and its allies spent an estimated $5 million.


Industry sources suggest that Ohio ag interests would’ve needed to raise around $10 million to get their message out to voters.


Beyond livestock care issues, the language also addresses regulations on dog breeding kennels, cockfighting and dangerous and exotic animals.


"This agreement provides a pathway for the enactment of a series of eight major animal welfare reforms, representing an historic advance on animal welfare issues," said Pacelle.


A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) includes recommendations for the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board (OLCSB), the Legislature, and the Governor to adopt the following provisions:

· A ban on veal crates by 2017, which is the same timing as the ballot measure.

· A ban on new gestation crates in the state after December 31, 2010. Existing facilities are grandfathered, but must cease use of these crates within 15 years.

· A moratorium on permits for new battery cage confinement facilities for laying hens.

· A ban on strangulation of farm animals and mandatory humane euthanasia methods for sick or injured animals.

· A ban on the transport of downer cows for slaughter.

· Enactment of a legislation establishing felony-level penalties for cock fighters.

· Enactment of legislation cracking down on puppy mills.

· Enactment of a ban on the acquisition of dangerous exotic animals as pets, such as primates, bears, lions, tigers, large constricting and venomous snakes, crocodiles, and alligators.


Failure to implement the provisions related wild and dangerous or the reforms recommended to the OLCSB by Dec. 31, 2010 could void the agreement and allow the HSUS to resume its ballot initiative campaign, according to a draft of the MOU.


However, if the terms of the agreement are met and implemented to the satisfaction of all parties, it will extend to Jan. 1, 2014. Further extensions of the agreement are possible through 2019 if the terms continue to be met.

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