As of Wednesday, times are changing for animals on Ohio’s farms, kennels, and fighting rings—too quickly for industrial farmers and breeders, and too slowly for animal protection workers.
Heralding an abrupt change of focus for both communities, Governor Ted Strickland brokered an eleventh-hour agreement between the Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), on eight major animal welfare issues.
HSUS President Wayne Pacelle provisionally agreed to sit on the 500,000+ voter signatures recently gathered by Ohioans for Humane Farms, which–if delivered Wednesday to the Secretary of State–would have given voters a November referendum aimed at reforming industrial confinement and slaughter of animals.
In exchange, OFB Vice-president Tony Fisher, agriculture leaders, and Governor Strickland agreed to push the following reforms for farmed animals:
- phase out “gestation crates” used to immobilize pregnant sows, by 2025.
- phase out crates used to immobilize veal calves, by 2017.
- stop issuing permits for the construction of new wire cage facilities for egg-laying hens.
- require that sick or injured “downer” cows be euthanized rather than dragged to slaughter.
- end the strangulation of pigs and cows.
In a departure from similar accords reached in four other states, Strickland also announced his pledge of support on three issues unrelated to farming, a pledge which he said had “made it easier for [HSUS] to make the decision… to remove the ballot initiative.” Those changes will be:
- encourage the passage of HB 108 to establish felony-level penalties for cockfighting.
- encourage the passage of SB 95 to eliminate “puppy mill” conditions in dog breeding kennels.
- ban the acquisition of dangerous wild animals as pets (such as bears, wild cats, and large reptiles).
According to the agreement, if these terms are not “met and implemented to the satisfaction of all parties,” HSUS will be free to resubmit its signatures for a later election cycle. Governor Strickland will be running for reelection this fall, and it is unclear how that election might impact Wednesday’s agreement.
The major humane organizations behind the ballot initiative—HSUS, Farm Sanctuary, and Mercy for Animals—have proclaimed the agreement a landmark victory for animals. But to some of the volunteers who had been pounding sidewalks since March to gather signatures for the halted referendum, the concessions made were painful.
Kevin O’Connor, 43, an auto mechanic from Maineville who donated four months of evenings and weekends to coordinating Warren and Butler Counties’ petition drives, especially regretted that the agreement would not improve conditions for Ohio’s hens.
While he pointed out that the moratorium would halt the construction of a planned six million dollar, two million hen Hi-Q Egg Products factory in Union County, he said “unfortunately, it doesn’t do anything to help the 27,000,000 birds that are still stuck in [battery cages].”
“Right now my thinking is that if I just looked at what the agreement was, without putting my perspective on what I was hoping for, it would seem like a really good thing,” O’Connor said. “So that’s how I’m going to look at it. And I’m gonna dedicate my future to getting rid of battery cages.”
Many discussions among farmers opposed to HSUS have taken a similar tone: deeply disappointed, and looking for bright sides. Pam Haley, co-owner of Haley Farms in West Salem, where she and her husband grow grains and cattle, responded to a request by ABN Radio (“Ohio’s Voice For Agriculture”) for input:
“I know that everyone was up for a fight this fall but when you look at the amount of capital that it would have taken to take this fall is huge. Secondly even if we would have won the ballot issue just think about larger amount of distrust that would have been out there for the ag community after all those one sided pictures were put all over the tv commercials… We must understand that we will never again farm the way our parents or grandparents got to, we live in a very skeptical and untrusting society and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.”
A recent pile-up of the public distrust Haley mentions, may have influenced this week’s negotiation.
On May 26 local news stations served Ohioans sickening undercover footage of workers brutally beating a calf on Conklin Dairy Farm. And on June 8, as reported by Forbes Magazine, Land O’Lakes Inc. and two subsidiaries agreed to pay a $25 million settlement to end a class action lawsuit accusing 16 egg industry trade groups and producers of “conspiring to reduce output during a time of increased demand that began in 2000, enabling them to hike the cost of eggs to record highs by 2007, reaping record profits.”
Both sides of Wednesday’s negotiation expressed relief for the millions of campaign dollars the agreement would save.
Asked in a press conference Wednesday why he had involved himself in the negotiation, Governor Strickland mentioned the money saved, and added, “I just did not think it was in Ohio’s best interest, to have an acrimonious ballot initiative debated.”
O’Connor, on the other hand, had counted on the campaign raising public scrutiny of the animal welfare problems plaguing industrial farms.
“The thing that hit me first was it would have been really great to have those ads on TV,” he said.
But Farm Sanctuary President Gene Baur said he believed side-stepping the campaign could be more likely to improve communication. “Ghandi said the goal is to bring people to their senses, not their knees. I basically support the concept of discussion, and moving people forward in a collegial way.”
Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely expressed a similar desire for civility, but without Baur’s hope that minds would change as a result. “We are so far opposed in our ultimate goals for animals, that the argument would not have been high-minded,” he said. “It would have been ugly.”