REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — The leader of the nation’s largest animal welfare organization has pledged his support for the newly created Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
In an Aug. 24 meeting at the Ohio Department of Agriculture in Reynoldsburg, The Humane Society of the United States’ CEO Wayne Pacelle told board members he upholds the ballot decision Ohioans approved last fall calling for the board’s formation, and its charge to set standards of welfare for farm animals.
“We recognize the vote of the citizens of Ohio on Issue 2, and we recognize the authority of the livestock board,” Pacelle said during the board’s public comment period.
The board is the first of its kind in the nation and was approved with nearly a two-thirds vote.
He called it “a novel structure to address an increasingly complex set of issues. It’s not just animal welfare, it’s production, it’s environment, it’s rural values, it’s food safety. This is a tangle of issues.”
Pacelle’s approval comes at a time when other Midwestern states are working on their own care boards, to keep animal welfare concerns under their own power. His acceptance of the Ohio board has evolved over an 18-month period, following his unsuccessful attempt in January 2009 to negotiate with Ohio’s agriculture leaders.
The matter then proceeded to the state’s Issue 2 campaign and voter passage of state Issue 2 in November, which called for the creation of an Ohio-based care board to determine standards for Ohio’s livestock.
Change of mind
Initially, Pacelle and HSUS were opposed to creation of the board, but made little effort to defeat the initiative. Instead, HSUS launched its own ballot initiative in the spring of 2010, to mandate to the care board, certain “minimum standards.”
As the June signature filing deadline came to a close in Ohio, HSUS reported that it had collected the sufficient number to appear on the November ballot (just over 400,000). But at the same time, and virtually at the last minute, Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland announced that a deal had been reached between HSUS and Ohio’s farm groups, that would ultimately prevent what he called costly spending on “an acrimonious campaign.”
Pacelle said it was unclear who would have won if another initiative had appeared on the state’s ballot. What was clear is, only one party would prevail.
“I guarantee you that with a ballot initiative, one side would have lost,” he said. “Here, we have the possibility of two sides (winning).
Pacelle said the compromise wasn’t easy, for his supporters, or for the supporters of Ohio agriculture.
“I know that while we have disagreements with some of those trade representatives and some of the representatives certainly have disagreements with us, I think we saw each other as fair-minded, serious-minded people,” he said. “If we can’t sit down in society and work some of these things out, that portends trouble.”
Pacelle noted there are differing world perspectives as to how animals are treated and used.
“We’ve got very different world views — a lot of us — on how animals should be treated in agriculture. Folks who are using the conventional methods of veal production and gestation crate production are in a different place than a lot of the folks whom I work with.”
Those whom he works with at HSUS promote a vegan agenda — abstaining from eating meat, dairy and other animal products. HSUS supports what it calls the “Three-R-s,” reduce, refine and replace consumption of animal foods — points that have sparked criticism from livestock producers, who want to promote and increase demand for their product.
But Pacelle said the standards listed in the compromise will have a positive effect on farm-consumer relations.
“The industry will be better off with the American consumer, if these policies are adopted,” he said.
The agreement, which contains the signatures of Strickland, Ohio’s major farm commodity groups and Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, is not legally binding. But there are repercussions both sides could face if conditions go unmet, including a return to the ballot in future elections.
“This is a gentlemen’s and gentlewomen’s agreement between the parties, a good-faith effort to figure out a pathway forward for all of us … and the nation will be looking at what you do,” Pacelle said. “Are we going to have these really polarized circumstances, or are we going to find a pathway forward.”
Board member Jeff Wuebker, a farmer from Versailles, said Pacelle’s comments were “timely” and “a good summary” of the Ohio-HSUS agreement.
Jerry Lahmers, board member and farmer from Newcomerstown, said he heard some significant points in Pacelle’s testimony, some that surprised him, but in a good way.
“It’s interesting to me that he made these comments,” Lahmers said. “He would appear to support us.”
Editor’s Note: Here is a link to the recommendations agreed upon by the parties. It explains some of the terms for meeting the agreement, though some are also implied.