That was step one — an important first step, but one that leads Ohioans and their farmers to additional responsibilities and decisions to be made.
On Feb. 24, a host of speakers at the 11th annual Northeast Ohio Regional Dairy Conference continued the work of Issue 2, and helped prepare dairymen for the road ahead.
Brad Garrison — Wayne County veterinarian and chairman of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association’s Food Animal Committee — updated the group on Ohio H.B. 414 — legislation to implement the care board and determine its sources of funding.
The bill calls for increased fees associated with livestock feeds, including inspections and an additional tonnage fee.
Garrison said “funding” has become one of the most discussed topics of the board. To date, no related bill has been introduced in Ohio’s Senate, a process he expects will happen within the next 30 days.
After the Senate Agriculture Committee gives its approval, the bill will come before the full Ohio Senate and House floors. He predicted the care board could be functional by late April or early May.
Until then, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland will need to appoint board members to serve. The board will consist of 13 members. Garrison said he is confident Strickland is taking his role seriously, as well as Ohio Director of Agriculture Robert Boggs, and Ohio’s State Veterinarian Tony Forshey.
“I’m convinced that the Governor takes his role (seriously) in appointing quality people to the board, that have the knowledge and expertise to give the board a true, sound basis for creating the standards and moving forward,” he said.
Garrison said supporters want to get the board operating well before November elections, where select animal rights groups have announced their intent to determine the standards the board must follow.
“We certainly desire to have something for the people of the state of Ohio to look at,” he said, so they can see that it is serving them, and the constitutional amendment they approved.
Following Garrison, the 250-plus attendees learned about the differences between animal care and welfare, and how to be prepared to defend their farm practices, and their livelihoods.
Candace Croney, professor in The Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said dairy farmers are “very lucky” compared to other industries, because of all the animals raised for food consumption, dairy is among the least targeted by animal rights activist groups.
But they’re not exempt, she assured the dairymen, and pointed to the video clips of abuse recently aired on ABC’s Nightline as an example.
Basic animal “care” is a given, she said, something the public already assumes farmers do and something that naturally comes with good animal husbandry.
Welfare, as Croney and others explained, is more concerned with the relationship between farmer and animal, and providing for its physical and mental needs.
Whatever kind of care or welfare farmers give, they need to know what they do and why they do it, she said, because they represent their business to the consumer.
“If you can’t answer those questions then it doesn’t make a lot of sense to the average person,” she said. “This is your business, you have to be able to answer them.”
Croney said farmers need to know why they practice tail docking, if they do, or why they do other practices, because not answering a question, or becoming defensive, weakens the trust between farmer and consumer.
She described the farmer-consumer climate as a “perfect storm” for issues like the ones being faced, in large part because fewer and fewer Americans understand animal agriculture.
Less than 2 percent of the country is involved with food production, she said, a percentage that decreases daily. Peoples’ knowledge of animals now comes from zoos, pets and media.
A less-educated America plays out strongly for policy that says it’s designed to protect animals.
“If it’s in front of them and it basically says it’s good for animals, they will vote for it,” she said. “The issue that is happening is that every time these things are put on the ballot, they pass by terrific margins.”
For supporters of Issue 2, “terrific margin” are appreciated. But the same think can also benefits activist organizations, if they, too, convince people their policy is a good vote for animals.