SALEM, Ohio — Lawmakers are considering an amendment to Ohio’s constitution that will create and enforce guidelines for proper care of livestock and poultry.
A joint resolution between the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives — which has the support of most major agricultural organizations in Ohio — would authorize language on the ballot this November and, if passed, would create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, a 13-member board responsible for implementing proper guidelines. Votes could come as early as this week.
“This effort will help further the mission of Ohio farmers to provide high-quality, locally grown food,” Strickland said.
“The board will ensure that Ohioans continue to have access to a safe and affordable local food supply and will make our state a national leader in the level of animal care and responsibility.”
“This amendment is about the agricultural industry taking a proactive stance about a safe, high-quality food supply,” said Ohio Sen. Bob Gibbs of the 22nd District, who first introduced the legislation.
Gibbs, along with Sen. Jason Wilson of the 30th District, will attempt to pass the amendment through the Senate either this week or next.
The amendment must be passed by a three-fifths majority of the House and the Senate. If it does, it will then be submitted on the Nov. 3 ballot to Ohio voters.
The 13 members of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board would include the Ohio director of agriculture, a family farmer appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives and a family farmer appointed by the President of the Senate.
The remaining 10 members, to be appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate, would include a member representing family farms, a member with knowledge of Ohio food safety, two members representing a statewide farm organization, a veterinarian licensed in Ohio, the Department of Agriculture’s State Veterinarian, the dean of agriculture at an Ohio college or university, two members representing Ohio consumers and one member representing a county humane society.
The board would be charged with establishing and implementing livestock and poultry care standards, with enforcement by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Along with Gov. Strickland, many agricultural organizations have announced their support of this legislation.
“We applaud [those] supporting this measure because it underscores what we already know — caring for our birds keeps them healthy, keeps our food safe and keeps nutritious eggs and poultry foods affordable for consumers,” said Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association.
Those making similar public statements include Thomas Fleming of the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Elizabeth Harsh of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, and Dick Isler of the Ohio Pork Producers Council.
Sandy Kuhn, executive director of the Ohio Livestock Coalition, said the proposal would protect Ohio’s family farms.
“A board of experts in farming, animal care, food safety and animal science is the right body to make Ohio-based decisions that affect our farms and our ability to continue producing safe, local food for Ohioans,” she said.
Despite the overwhelming support from the agricultural industry, one group opposes the amendment — the Humane Society of the United States.
“This is very much a ‘fox guarding the hen house’ situation,” said Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States’ factory farming campaign.
“Because of the proposed industry-dominated board, it is poor public policy, and we believe voters should not support the amendment.”
Shapiro said other states have dealt with similar matters through statues, and he regards Ohio’s attempt to amend the state constitution as unnecessary and said it contains hidden motives.
“It’s essentially a hand-out to big agribusinesses,” he said.
Earlier this year, representatives from the Humane Society of the United States, including CEO Wayne Pacelle, met with Ohio’s agricultural industry leaders. The HSUS representatives explained they wanted to eliminate poultry cages, veal crates and gestation stalls and that they were willing to take the issue to the ballot.
Upon hearing Gov. Strickland’s support of the legislation, Pacelle issued a statement, explaining his disapproval of the legislation.
Pacelle said Ohio Farm Bureau had refused to respond to the society’s initial proposal and are now implementing a “favored oversight system” into the state constitution.
“If Ohio agribusiness groups do not agree to some restrictions, the HSUS is prepared to launch a statewide ballot initiative campaign for November 2010 to ensure that animals on factory farms are given enough room to turn around and extend their limbs,” he said.
Ohio Farm Bureau Senior Vice President of Public Policy Keith Stimpert said the proposed amendment is the collaborative, widespread effort of many Ohio agricultural organizations.
“We think it’s proactive and positive and all interests will be served,” he said. “This is a straightforward proposal, opening up the floor for open and transparent discussion about agricultural practices today.”
Although Ohio Farm Bureau’s new Center for Food and Animal Issues was not directly involved in the development of the legislation, Stimpert is hopeful the center will be able to educate consumers and increase consumer confidence without the need for an expensive campaign.
If the measure reaches the Nov. 3 ballot and a majority of voters approves the proposal, it would take effect immediately.