Ohio ag groups push livestock board
COSHOCTON, OH (DTN) – As Ohio lawmakers appear ready to approve a resolution that would allow a ballot measure to create a livestock standards board, the Ohio Farm Bureau is working to convince voters that they should have enough faith in the state’s livestock producers to back the measure.
While trying to wrap up its legislative session, the Ohio Legislature is finalizing language on a possible November ballot measure for voters to consider a 13-member board that would create statewide standards for the care of livestock. Resolutions have passed both chambers of the legislature, but there are some minor language issues to resolve. If the measure gets on the ballot, it would give agricultural groups the chance to make the case that potentially tighter controls proposed by the Humane Society of the United States are not needed.
By pushing for a statewide board to create standards for livestock and poultry practices, Ohio agriculture groups are taking pre-emptive steps to prevent a possible citizen referendum pushed by the Humane Society. Ohio farming interests are hoping to avoid referendum fights like those in Arizona and California, where farm groups spent millions on campaigns to defend their production practices only to get crushed at the ballot box.
Ohio livestock producers began pushing the standards board concept after meeting with HSUS President Wayne Pacelle last February. Pacelle told Ohio farm leaders his group wants provisions similar to California: a ban on sow gestation crates, a ban on poultry cages and a ban on veal crates. Pacelle also suggested HSUS could win a ballot initiative.
“Wayne basically said he has looked at polling data in Ohio and the mindset is not that much different than California,” said Brent Porteus, president of the Ohio Farm Bureau.
Ohio isn’t the only state working on such proactive measures. Michigan lawmakers have introduced legislation that would create statewide standards and an advisory council.
Pacelle has criticized the Ohio effort, saying last week in an interview for the radio program AgriTalk that a standards board of 12 or 13 people shouldn’t set the rules for millions of people in Ohio.
“It’s clearly a blocking maneuver,” Pacelle told AgriTalk. “I really don’t think that it changes the equation at all. You have the same people kind of making decisions now in the realm of agriculture with no checks on intensive confinement and no reasonable humane transport or slaughter standards. You essentially have the same people controlling it. You could have minority representation of a local humane society which truly may have no familiarity with agriculture. Say what you want about HSUS but we have professional animal scientists, we have a good amount of experience with the agriculture issues.”
Pacelle added that his group is committed to stopping “intensive confinement of animals” and will continue to work in Ohio.
“Ohio is very much still top of mind for us despite this effort which I think was a really bad-faith effort by the Farm Bureau to kind of short-circuit discussions and thwart the initiatives.”
Pacelle has identified that Ohio’s population is effectively urban and most people are separated from farm production, Porteus said. The Ohio Farm Bureau is working more on an educational effort by creating the Center for Food and Animal Issues to better explain livestock practices to the public.
“We have to elevate this level of discussion,” Porteus said. “Our goal is to find a proactive way to meet that responsibility that looks out for consumer interest. This is about food safety, food affordability and consumer choice.”
Porteus operates a 250-cow beef-cattle operation south of Coshocton, OH, about 70 miles east of Columbus. He also grows corn, wheat, soybeans and hay. A long-time active member of agricultural policy issues in the state, Porteus acknowledges Pacelle may not back down even if a statewide standards board gets strong voter approval. Further, HSUS spent millions on its California campaign and suggested the group would be willing to spend as much as $10 million for an Ohio referendum.
“Pacelle is very good,” Porteus said. “He’s a formidable opponent. He is about as good a communicator as I’ve ever met.”