A preacher, animal welfare advocates, the executive director for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, and several cattle farmers spoke to the problems they see with Ohio H. B. 414 — legislation designed to get the board up and running.
Among concerns was the price to fund the board, which is expected to receive at least $500,000 per year from the Commercial Feed and Seed fund. This will come from an additional fee of 15 cents per ton of feed, spread over three increments from the day the bill becomes effective, to the start of 2012.
David Hutchins, of Millcreek Angus Farm in West Mansfield, said livestock producers already are faced with tough marketing situations, and should not be dealt another expense.
“Because the cost of a tax increase would be passed directly onto the livestock producer, it would add to the already-increasing production costs,” he said.
At 15 cents a ton, the increase would cost a producer slightly more than a third of a cent for a 50 pound bag of feed. Buying 200 tons would cost $30.
Hutchins said he thinks because the general public voted in favor of Ohio’s Issue 2 in November, the “general public” should foot the bills to operate it.
He and a couple other cattlemen also questioned whether the goal of local food can really be accomplished, because of the lack of large-scale processing plants in Ohio.
Mount Gilead farmer Larry Queen asked Representatives how they will guarantee more food is produced locally, when the infrastructure doesn’t support it.
“My cattle have to be shipped out of state because of a lack of processing facilities here in Ohio … I feel this (added fee) would be a hard take for an economically depressed Livestock Industry at this time,” he said.
Queen asked Representatives whether the new rules will “improve our operations or will it be a financial burden that will cause many of us to exit livestock production here in Ohio.”
But farmers could also be exiting the industry, if the Issue 2 campaign had failed, its proponents said last fall. Supporters warned farmers big and small they would face legislation similar to California’s Proposition 2, which resulted in changes to farm practices much more costly than the 15 cent feed tax.
Trevor Stover, a cattleman from Lexington, Ohio, said Issue 2 was largely backed by Ohio Farm Bureau, which caused the public to mistakenly believe the issue was a vote in favor of saving family farms.
Stover said Farm Bureau told the public that a “no” vote would result in a dictated set of standards by the animal rights group Humane Society of The United States.
On Feb. 1, HSUS announced its petition to be on Ohio’s Nov. 2010 ballot, to persuade voters to approve its own standard for the care board.
However, Ohio Farm Bureau’s stance was not necessarily to stop HSUS, but to “preempt” its efforts and put an Ohio-specific plan in place.
“The HSUS scheme was not unexpected,” OFBF media said in a released statement. Threats from HSUS to put their own issue on the ballot were made before the election, independent of the outcome.
Stover further asked why Representatives are trying to set a budget for the board, before it’s in place.
“How can we possibly set funding aside for a non-existent board to enforce standards that have not yet been debated?” he asked.
Ohio Farm Bureau, which supported Issue 2, recently asked the opposite — how can the board be criticized before it’s even created.
“The enabling legislation hasn’t passed; the board hasn’t been appointed and the first discussions on what standards Ohioans find acceptable hasn’t been held, said Jack Fisher, OFBF’s executive vice president, in a released statement.
At one point during testimony, chairman John Domenick, D-Smithfield, reminded those testifying that the House was considering how to implement the new board, and with what funds, not the actual standards of enforcement. Those will come during later discussions, he indicated.
Rep. Dave Hall, R-Millersburg, said transparency remains an important focus in forming the board and how it will operate. All testimony is valued, he said, but some is a repeat of opponent testimony given last year, before the issue of creating the board was decided.
(Updates to this story are forthcoming).