Editor’s Note: For a look at how various industry representatives responded, read our reaction story here.
COLUMBUS — Battery hen cages, sow gestation crates and veal crates will be phased out in Ohio, changing production practices on many farms in the years to come.
The Humane Society of the United States, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, announced a compromise has been reached between HSUS and Ohio’s major agricultural groups regarding animal welfare issues. As a result, there will be no ballot initiative regarding livestock on the November ballot.
In a unexpected development, Strickland held a news conference to announce the deal late in the afternoon June 30, the day the HSUS was supposed to hand over petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office for the proposed November ballot initiative.
The agreement itself is unique from deals reached in other states because it also promises new legislation for dog breeding kennels, cock fighting and possession of exotic animals.
Strickland, who was influential in brokering the deal, said the compromise was good for Ohio agriculture and for animal welfare. He added it is a common sense solution and did not think it was in Ohio’s best interest to proceed with the proposed ballot initiative.
The compromise includes the following (Read the complete agreement.)
— Veal crates will be phased out by 2017.
— There will no more permits issued for new pork operations using gestation crates as of Dec. 31, 2010. The gestation crates already in use will be phased out in 15 years, or by Dec. 31, 2025.
— There will be no new permits issued for battery cages used in egg operations. A timeline has not been established for the phase-out of the cages.
California, Arizona and Florida are using a six-year limit on phasing out the gestation, veal and battery cages.
— The agreement also supports the language on the proposed ballot initiative related to downer animals and how farmers can euthanize livestock on their farms.
In addition, Strickland and the farm groups pledged to work to get the legislature to consider stronger puppy mill/kennel regulations, stronger penalties and legislation for cockfighting, and stronger regulation against exotic animals breeding and possession.
Strickland said the deal has the support of the Ohioans for Livestock Care steering committee, which includes the state’s dairy, beef, poultry, pork, corn, and soybean associations, and the Ohio Farm Bureau. He said it is a balance between animal welfare and economics, and still maintains the integrity of the newly formed Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
“Agriculture is Ohio’s single largest industry and we’ve arrived at a good solution and resolution for Ohio,” Strickland said.
Board still has final say
Ohio Director of Agriculture Robert Boggs and members of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board were noticeably absent at the news conference.
But Boggs, who also chairs the livestock care board, said “people are tired of confrontation and want consensus and collaboration.”
To his knowledge, “no member of the board was involved in the deliberations,” an important factor, he said, because the board must maintain its independence in order to create a set of standards for the care of livestock in Ohio.
The board will consider recommendations from the compromise participants as it would from any source, he said.
“We can’t be involved in negotiations and then rule on if it’s good or bad,” he said.
Boggs said the agreement assures recommendations will be made, but noted “the care board will (still) make the final decision.”
Why cut a deal?
Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s CEO Jack Fisher said the HSUS and OFBF do think differently, but they both came to the table to represent the interests of Ohioans. He added the agreement recognizes the wishes of the voters expressed in last year’s election and enables the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to carry out its work.
It also, Fisher said, adds certainty, or risk management, for Ohio farmers that a ballot initiative on this November ballot would not have provided.
Fisher stressed that the resolution will allow the board the opportunity to fill its mission, which is to create standards for livestock.
Wayne Pacelle, chief executive officer of HSUS, agreed with Fisher that the uncertainty of what would happen in a ballot initiative for either side made the compromise possible.
He said the organization has been at odds with a number of issues but through good faith discussion and the realization that animal welfare matters, a compromise was reached.
Patrick Galloway, director of communications for Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner, said there are no statistics available for groups collecting signatures for a ballot issue. However, a group typically turns in double the number of signatures needed. The percentage of signatures validated varies depending on whether or not an outside paid group collecting signatures was used and how professional they are.
Galloway added that, in his experience, when the group shoots for double the number needed, it usually works out and the group has enough valid signatures.
To get the HSUS-backed initiative on this November’s ballot, the Ohioans for Humane Farms needed a minimum of 402,275 valid signatures. It said it had collected over 500,000.
Galloway said he is doubtful that they (Ohioans for Humane Farms) would have made it.