David White: Ohio’s experience with activist groups, potential impact on U.S. agriculture
December 17, 2010
In 2009, Ohio livestock producers took a proactive approach to set the standards for animal welfare in their state; they did so with the passing of Issue 2, which established the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. This win was both costly and time consuming, but animal agriculture took ownership in the debate, setting a positive example for other states to follow. However, in 2010, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) came back to start another conversation leading to Ohio agriculture organizations and the state’s governor reaching an agreement with HSUS that will change how livestock is raised in the state.
With an increased presence in each state, HSUS is gearing up to present legislative measures and ballot initiatives to change the face of animal agriculture across the country. With this looming threat in mind, David White, executive director of the Ohio Livestock Coalition, shared Ohio’s experiences with HSUS at the annual luncheon of Ag United for South Dakota on Dec. 7, 2010 in Sioux Falls, SD.
“HSUS has passed ballot initiatives in Florida, California and Arizona, as well as measures passed via legislation in Oregon, Michigan, Colorado and Massachusetts,” explained White. “Essentially, ballot initiatives are supposed to impact societal issues including gay marriage, environment and the election process. Of course, animal welfare is also defined as a societal issue.”
White told the audience that in the 1970s, 103 ballot initiatives were introduced. That increased to 383 in the 1990s, and in this decade, more than 12,000 ballot initiatives were held in states, many of those regarding animal welfare. It was a big win for animal agriculture in 2009 when Issue 2 in Ohio was passed, and White explained what had to be done to get it pushed forward.
“In January of 2009, we received a call from HSUS; they wanted to meet with us to talk about the introduction of a ballot initiative to ban three types of animal practices,” said White. “They wanted us to be less polarized on the issue once their campaign began. Yes, ‘polarized’ is the word they chose to use about us. So, we listened and decided to take our own active approach. In the summer of 2009, we passed the call for the creation of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.”
The proactive campaign cost agriculture a whopping $4.7 million, which in Ohio, only buys three television commercials.
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“How did we win in this environment?” asked White. “We put up 50,000 yard signs, held 12 city rallies, created a Web site, used social media, walked the streets and had strong bipartisan support.”
The success of Issue 2 didn’t come without controversy. In fact, many farmers and ranchers chose not to support the board in the final weeks of the campaign for fear of increased regulations and costly new rules on animal welfare.
“We looked at the future of livestock production in our state, and yes, we passed something that will be costly for farmers, and yes, we called for more regulation,” explained White. “Do farmers like regulation? Absolutely not, but we had to change the climate, we had to change the voice and we had to put control in the hands and hearts of the state’s farmers and ranchers.”
Issue 2 passed 64 percent to 36 percent with 47 percent voter turnout. White said the results proved that voters believe livestock care is critical to agriculture and the state’s economy.
“The reason Issue 2 prevailed is because farmers got out each and every single day and told their story,” said White. “This was a tremendous grassroots effort.”
He listed two important lessons learned from the campaign, “First, we have to have agriculture unity and organization. Everyone has to be talking and willing to work together. Second, farmers must own the animal welfare issue. If you aren’t explaining what you’re doing, someone else is. If somebody else is doing all the talking, how accurate are their statements?”
White challenged the producers in attendance to do more online using Facebook and Twitter to share the agriculture story.
“We have to be more proactive and less reactive,” added White. “The average person in the U.S. trusts farmers. They believe farm animals should be treated the same as cats and dogs. What messages can we create to show that there is a difference? The threats of animal agriculture are numerous. We must all work together.”
White encouraged producers in every state to start gathering their resources, organizing their efforts and getting every segment of the industry on the same page to create a proactive approach to own the animal welfare debate. Is your state prepared to get the job done?