Ohio livestock standards board may be ballot bound this November

SALEM, Ohio — The fourth week in June was an exciting one for livestock producers and agricultural organizations across the state of Ohio.

Within a week, two similar bills, H.J.R. 2 and S.J.R. 6, were introduced and passed through the House of Representatives and Senate.

Ballot initiative

The passing of the bills through the Ohio General Assembly will allow Ohio voters in November to support or strike down a constitutional amendment to create a state Livestock Care Standards Board. The 13-member board, comprised mostly of farmers, veterinarians and agricultural industry leaders, will create and implement livestock care guidelines.

H.J.R. 2 was adopted through the House by a vote of 84-13 June 24.

The same day, Sen. Jason Wilson and Bob Gibbs spoke in favor of S.J.R. 6, along with Ohio family farmers. After passing a sub-bill containing technical amendments, the resolution moved to the full Senate for consideration.

On June 25, the Senate voted unanimously, 32-0, in favor of the resolution.

Leaders from both the House and Senate will now collaborate to establish the final resolution. If it is approved by both legislative bodies, it will be moved to the Ohio Ballot Board, a five-member board chaired by the Secretary of State.

The board is responsible for certifying ballot language and informing voters of the ballot issues.

What’s next

Beth Vanderkooi, director of state policy at Ohio Farm Bureau, said that Farm Bureau, like many agricultural organizations, is waiting for the legislation to be officially ballot-bound before talking campaign strategies.

“We’re taking it one step at a time,” she said. “However, when we do begin to plan a campaign, we will focus on voter education efforts.”

Vanderkooi and Sen. Wilson are hopeful the final resolution will be approved before the Senate initiates a summer recess, which typically starts this week.

If that happens, Wilson said organizations such as Farm Bureau and county 4-H programs will have the opportunity to educate voters during the upcoming county fairs.

“Those involved in agriculture in Ohio need to stand up and help put a face to modern agriculture,” he said. “They shouldn’t let outside groups from other states influence what they can and can’t do.”

Opposition plans

Dean Vickers, the Ohio director of the Humane Society of the United States testified at the June 24 hearing to the House. However, he was not permitted to comment further to reporters.

Paul Shapiro, senior director for the factory farming campaign of the Humane Society of the United States, said the passing of the legislation was frustrating to the activist organization.

“We’re disappointed to see legislators act so hastily to provide a handout to special interest groups,” Shapiro said.

He said the humane society would be encouraging voters to vote “no,” should the legislation make it to the ballot. He also mentioned the organization was contemplating a 2010 ballot initiative that would enact certain measures, allowing farm animals to be able to “turn around and extend their limbs.”

“All along, we had hoped not to take these measures,” Shapiro said. “But Ohio Farm Bureau refused to negotiate and made that even more clear with this aggressive and provocative action.”

Support from other states

Debbie Murdock, executive director for the Association of California Egg Farmers, believes the legislation is a wonderful idea and would like to see it implemented across the United States.

Murdock was active in the unsuccessful campaign against Proposition 2 in California last November and continues to help egg producers comply with the new law.

The key to making Ohio’s legislation work and avoiding another situation like Proposition 2 is consumer education, she said.

“The ag industry has to educate the public about where their food comes from,” she said. “It’s hard to do, especially in urban areas where people are as many as three or four generations removed from the farm.”

Although agricultural advocates in California attempted to reach out to urban areas for education, Murdock said the voting came down to more than just ballot language.

“When Californians voted, they weren’t voting based on what they read about hens being able to move around,” she said. “They were voting based on the image of a dairy cow being moved by a forklift.”

Murdock, referring to the Humane Society of the United States video that led to the largest meat recall in history, said the ag industry needs a different image.

“Farmers and producers are the best spokespeople and that’s who consumers want to talk to,” she said.

Prior to Proposition 2, Murdock said California farmers — egg producers in particular — were reluctant to reach out to the media and to consumers, mainly because of biosecurity issues.

Since the law has been enacted, producers are much more proactive about speaking with the public, while maintaining safety for their flocks.

Murdock hopes more producers will be willing to promote their livelihood.

“We’re all learning how to be better about education,” she said. “We have a good story to tell — we just need to become better at telling it.”

Activist groups like the Humane Society of the United States have passed farm animal legislation in California, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Oregon and, most recently, Maine.

However, Michigan now joins Ohio in introducing legislation that would protect modern livestock production practices.

About the Author

Emily Caldwell of Beaver Falls, Pa., serves as the 2009 Farm and Dairy editorial intern. She is a graduate of Penn State University, where she studied agribusiness and agricultural communications. Feel free to follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emily718. More Stories by Emily Caldwell

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