SALEM, Ohio — A new initiative of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation will help farmers and the public sort through the debate about the role of animals in society.
The newly launched Center for Food and Animal Issues will operate as an outreach and education department of the state Farm Bureau, according to executive vice president Jack Fisher.
“We’ve got to engage in public education and information about the importance of all animals in society and the contributions they make,” Fisher said.
“The bottom line is that animals are an integral and helpful part to society, but people come first, animals second,” he said.
The spark for the center’s formation came as, over the past couple of years, the state organization’s staff and board of trustees followed pork, poultry and veal housing debates in states like Florida, Arizona and, most recently, California’s Proposition 2.
Voters passed the California ballot issue in November and, by doing so, banned the use of gestation crates, veal crates and laying hen cages statewide. The debates and successful ballot issues were backed mainly by the Humane Society of the United States.
“Animal rights activists are very accomplished at manipulating public opinion,” Fisher said. “They make what sound like simple demands regarding animals when in reality their true goal is to give animals status equal to humans.”
Earlier this year, HSUS approached state Farm Bureau leaders for a meeting to discuss bringing similar measures to the Buckeye State.
“It’s evident that issues relative to the industry are being attacked, and that means it’s time to ramp up education and information and overall [public relations] about how and why we do things in animal ag,” Fisher said.
Fisher noted that besides helping guide educational efforts in Ohio, the center will also serve as a model for other states and for national agricultural organizations in their work to help the public understand the uses for animals in society, how food is produced, and the general workings of the food chain.
The center will engage groups with different philosophical viewpoints, including farmers, consumers, pet and horse owners, medical researchers, sportsmen and hunters, aquariums, zoos and their supporters, hunger advocates and local animal welfare organizations.
“Ultimately, our goal is to assure that people who rely on animals, either physically, emotionally or economically, have the right to do so,” Fisher said.
“We’ve got to elevate the issues so consumers still have choices to make and so that we as farmers can continue to provide animal protein,” he said.
Among values backed by the center are the beliefs that people should remain free to choose what is the proper use of animals, that all animals should be treated humanely and that decisions about animal care should be made by appropriate parties.
A subsidiary of the center will be the Animals for Life Foundation, which will focus on fundraising efforts to support the center’s mission.
The center will be housed in Columbus at the Farm Bureau headquarters. Initial plans are to have the center staffed by three to six people; interviews are currently under way for a vice president to head up the center, Fisher said.
Center staff will be heavily involved in communications and public relations, but will also research possible areas of regulation and litigation and work with the Farm Bureau’s policy department to stay on top of animal agriculture issues in the state.
No comment was made as to the center’s operating budget.