COLUMBUS — Unhappy with the charge of paying an additional feed tax and the possibility of having their own standards compromised, several groups representing organic, “small farmers” and “family farmers” asked Ohio’s Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee to be exempted from the soon-to-be formed livestock care standards board.
The board was approved by more than 63 percent of Ohio voters in November. The Ohio legislature is in the process of approving enabling legislation, to get the board in place and enable it to begin enforcing humane standards for animal care.
Ohio H.B. 414 — the enabling legislation, calls for a 15 cent tax per ton of commercial feed, to help fund the board.
Carol Goland, executive director of Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, told the House committee that organic standards are among the most stringent in the nation, and she feared the possibility Ohio standards could interfere with organic standards.
“Certified organic producers are already utilizing the highest standards of animal care, they subject their operations to careful scrutiny each year, and they bear a significant cost to do so,” Goland said.
Also speaking for OEFFA was Gary Cox, an attorney from Columbus. He said a lack of large-scale processing facilities in Ohio inhibit its ability to hold true to locally produced foods.
“Issue 2 isn’t going to support safe, local food and everybody knows that,” he said, calling its efforts “a toothless paper tiger.”
“The bill recognizes, as did the constitutional amendment that preceded it, that the best livestock care standards are those that promote safe food, the prevention of animal and human diseases, the encouragement of local food production …” Boggs said.
Cox said the “small, family farmer” shouldn’t have to pay the tonnage fee and encouraged Representatives to give them exemptions.
But Rep. James Zehringer, R-Fort Recovery — himself a farmer — cautioned against dividing the issue between the big and small farmers.
“This is about animal welfare in the state of Ohio,” he said.
Pastor Clint Zeigler of Sovereign Christ Church near Mount Gilead, Ohio, used Biblical and Constitutional references to present a different claim: animals are private property and the care board could violate private property ownership.
“The laws approved by this committee should reflect the Laws of God and they should not contradict The Ohio Constitution,” he said. “H.B. 414 appears to do both.”
He continued, “Livestock are private property, a tangible evidence of our liberty, possessing both intrinsic and imputed value; whoever controls them essentially owns them.”
Zeigler expressed his support for good “stewardship” over farm animals, but without negative sanctions against violators, which he feared the board would for its own gain of revenue.
One concern Zeigler shared with others was the possibility Humane Society of the United States could hijack the board with its own agenda.
“The very thing that this board was created to stop, it may now possibly do. … You have created a possible monster,” he said.
Mansfield livestock farmer David Hutchins said he was concerned there may now be two issues in Ohio, the board which was recently approved, and the standards HSUS will push for.
He challenged representatives to use existing legislation to defend the state against activist agendas, without creating additional programs.
“We do have rights already,” he insisted.
Robert Baker, senior manager for American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said ASPCA is “pleased with the prospect of adopting standards for care for livestock and poultry as an opportunity to ensure the humane treatment of farm animals.”
He asked that H.B. 414 be extended to include provisions for food, water and necessary care, safe environments, well-planned veterinary care programs, humane and sanitary slaughter methods and proper handling techniques.
John Holley, a horse farmer from Ohio’s Knox County, openly admitted he knew nothing about most livestock, other than horses. But he was equally concerned members of the care board could know everything about production livestock, and nothing about horses.
“There is nothing in the description of some of the board members that guarantees that they have experience or working knowledge of the livestock that they are going to determine care standards for,” he said.
He said standards that apply to one breed of horse may not apply to another. Likewise, there are different expectations from a work horse, as compared to a show horse.
Representatives took no formal actions on the testimony, but said they would consider the different interests and ways the Care Board can best serve the farm animal industry.
Some suggestions were to include board members who are knowledgeable about equine, or organic farming, so those interests are represented.