Ohio animal welfare compromise: Smart move or sell-out?

How do you want to spin this?

“Big Ag Blinks in Ohio, Bows to HSUS Demands.”

“Humane Society of the United States Slinks Away from Ohio in Face-Saving Move.”

Either way leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

On June 30, the day the Ohioans for Humane Farms was to submit the signatures it had gathered to put a Humane Society of the United States-backed animal care initiative on the fall ballot, the governor called a late afternoon news conference.

Flanked by Jack Fisher, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation CEO, and Wayne Pacelle, HSUS CEO, Gov. Ted Strickland announced an agreement had been reached between agricultural interests and the HSUS to halt the ballot initiative and “enhance” animal care standards. You can read the agreement for yourself (link opens .pdf).

“Everyone’s a winner,” proclaimed both sides — sides that started Monday as bitter opponents and ended Wednesday as allies.

Ag wins, Fisher said, because now we have certainty for better “risk management.” HSUS wins, Pacelle said, because the deal “constitutes the single biggest ever animal welfare package I’ve seen in our movement.”

In my opinion, this is no reason for agriculture to cheer. Let’s call it what is really is: a politically-driven, back-room deal.

They call politics the “art of compromise.” Elected officials compromise because they need to assemble a simple majority to implement a policy or pass a bill. Politicians quickly learn the art of compromise to survive.

I have to ask myself: Is that what just happened here in Ohio? Did agriculture need to compromise to survive? And no matter which way I look at it, the answer is “no.” But did agriculture get tangled up in one or more politicians’ survival tactic of compromise? Undoubtedly, yes. And we may never know the real closed-door reasons and pressures.

Negotiating and compromise are necessary, yes. Dialogue and considering differing perspectives are valuable, yes. But why now?

Legitimate dog breeders? Throw them under the bus. Exotic animals? What’s the definition? Doesn’t matter. Throw them under the bus, too.

Science? Well, let’s say out of one side of our mouths that we’ll fund projects to identify best management practices, but out of the other, let’s recommend banning any new egg farms that use conventional battery cages (even though science has found advantages and disadvantages to both caged and noncaged operations).

In audio on the Ohio Farm Bureau’s website, CEO Jack Fisher’s own words illustrate the possible futility of this exercise: “Their [HSUS] mission is to put us out of business, in my opinion, they have not backed away from their position, nor have we.”

There is nothing to guarantee HSUS won’t haul out those signatures at a later date.

“Failure to implement the provisions related to wild and dangerous animals or the reforms recommended to the OLCSB by Dec. 31, 2010, could void the agreement and allow the HSUS to pursue a ballot initiative whenever it chooses.”

The language is pretty clear: If the livestock board doesn’t toe the line and adopt the recommendations, the HSUS hammer will come down. So much for autonomy of the board — even though I still cling to that hope.

And the ag groups are telling us that this memorandum of understanding — which is not legally binding — is still a work in progress and is open to modification.

So what would have happened if ag had walked away from the negotiations? Worst-case scenario would be that the HSUS-backed Ohioans for Human Farming would have secured the necessary signatures to place their initiative on the November ballot. And, if passed by voters, the initiative would have required the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to adopt certain provisions.

Some of those provisions the board is already considering (euthanasia and downer cow standards), so there would have been little change there. The biggest change would have been the time period for phasing in of veal, laying hen and pregnant sow housing standards.

But it’s doubtful the group would’ve even had enough valid signatures to get the initiative on the November ballot, according to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office.

And so now’s the time to negotiate?

Farmers across the country were looking to Ohio as a model for dealing with animal rights activists and creating livestock care standards. We were, as the national Animal Agriculture Alliance put it, a “symbolic battleground for agriculture.” What have they learned by watching us? That an extremist group with a stated vegetarian and vegan mission and deep pockets is welcome at the ag table.

So much for sending Pacelle “and his band of anti-agriculture activists packing back to Washington D.C.,” the sound bite from OFB President Brent Porteus that earned a rousing round of applause from delegates during last December’s OFBF annual meeting.

No, let’s have them over for dinner, instead. Just be sure to serve a salad.

By Susan Crowell

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

8 Comments

  1. Holly says:

    Thanks for having the guts to take a critical look at how Solomon has split the baby. You don’t mention it, but I have to think the Conklin Farm video brought ag to the table.

  2. Jared Davis says:

    Good work Susan ! This puts a new spin on it. I originally accepted the compromise, but now I hate it. I hope Farm Bureau is happy for selling out.

  3. Polly says:

    Susan, this is the best article I’ve seen yet on this Farm Bureau sell-out of Ohio agriculture. Farm Bureau has violated their own state policy by entering into this agreement; their state policy does not permit them to agree to ban exotic animals, nor to lobby for dog bills. That alone has convinced exotic animal owners and dog breeders in Ohio to cancel their FB membership. I have no doubt that huge numbers of livestock farmers in Ohio will follow suit. Why would you want to send FB your $60/year only to have them sell you out to HSUS? Makes no sense at all.

  4. Chary says:

    So glad that the Farm and Dairy had the guts to call this like it is. I’ve had an overwhelming sense of dread since this ‘compromise’was announced. The very act of dealing with the HSUS on a poltical level has now given the group a legitimacy that the FB itself had previously dennied.

  5. mary gibson says:

    If you had had your home of 34 years destroyed by ten poultry buildings owned by Park Farms CEO retired, James Pastore, move in on it directly west, you would cheer that Big Ag finally got its due. …..and this from a Farm Bureau member albeit one that Farm Bureau did not bother to protect the personal property rights of.

    Perhaps they have finally met a formidable foe!

  6. E Wronski says:

    Thank you for writing this article and sharing the important information. I am a farm bureau member, and one of the “dopes” that worked hard to collect signatures in support of creating more human standards at corporate farms; not to punish family farms which usually take excellent care of their stock. I am disappointed that an MOU was reached, and not a transparent process. I preferred that it go to a vote of the people of Ohio, as more and more states eliminate the power of the referrendum by shortening the allowable time to even gather signatures; it will become harder to protect animals that are in fact being abused. As far as a vegetarian diet, well that is not something government should or can dictate, each to his own preferences. I find it sad that these closed door deals were made and disenheartened that rather than become a model State of best practices; we continue to be a backwater State with politicians only looking at what is best for them.

  7. Mike Sowers says:

    Best article ever. OFBF did a 180 on everyone who voted for this. I’m not or ever have been a Strickland supporter but I dont see this as his doing. He is a politican and most have no true loyalties. But the Farm Bureau does, or did until giving people who are non-farmers big discounts on insurance and other perks for joining. I would like to see the figures on members who farm and members who don’t. I’ll bet its surprising. Who does the Farm bureau as a whole actually represent? They took our dues and spent millions to pass the OLCSB and now their working with the USHS. Why didn’t they let the HS put the issue on the ballot (If they even had enough signatures to get it on). Let them spend millions of their own money not us FB members money. Thanks for the article. Its gotta be hard to publish against the FB.

  8. Amy says:

    Good article and very truthful abut throwing other animal industry and ownership under the bus. For OFB to preach honesty and transparency at their recent local meetings is hypocritical, to say the least. Farm Bureau ethics are comparable to HSUS’s in this instance. Almost all farmers are respectable-but this organization representing them is not. It’s refreshing to see most farmers do not agree with FB selling out their own and others.

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