The Ohio General Assembly took the first step in securing the future of Ohio’s farm families and food production industry this week with the introduction of a cooperative effort to place a comprehensive animal care amendment on the November 2009 ballot. House Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by Representative Allan Sayre (D-Dover), and Senate Joint Resolution 6, sponsored by Senator Bob Gibbs (R-Lakeville), were introduced on June 18 in both chambers. HJR 2 is co-sponsored by Representative Margaret Ruhl (R-Mt. Vernon), and SJR 6 is co-sponsored by Senator Jason Wilson (D-Columbiana).
The joint resolutions propose a ballot measure that would create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, a 13-member state board that would determine and enforce guidelines for the care and well being of livestock and poultry in Ohio in order to protect food safety and locally produced food for Ohioans.
Governor Ted Strickland threw his support to the proposed amendment, along with House Speaker Armond Budish, Senate President Bill Harris, House Minority Leader Bill Batchelder and Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro. The Governor said “This effort will help further the mission of Ohio farmers to provide high-quality, locally grown food.” Strickland also pointed out “The Board will ensure that Ohioans continue to have access to a safe and affordable local food supply and will make our state a national leader in the level of animal care and responsibility.”
The bipartisan weight behind the measure is due in no small part to agriculture’s critical importance to Ohio jobs and the economy. “This proposal is an essential step in sustaining the state’s livestock and poultry industries for generations to come,” said Sen. Gibbs. “Agriculture is the top contributor to Ohio’s economy, and this is an opportune time for Ohio to lead the way in regulating safe food production that respects animals, consumers and our farmers.”
Along with the Governor, the proposal’s sponsors found vocal support from the leaders of Ohio’s agriculture community, including representatives of Ohio’s commodity organizations, farm families and other stakeholder groups, who expressed their collective support for the Board’s creation.
“How food is produced in Ohio is a legitimate area of public interest, and we are committed to doing even more than what is expected of us,” said Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s time for Ohio to take control of the animal care issue by supporting proactive steps to protect both our food supply and our flocks and herds, while also ensuring we can produce the amount of food necessary to feed Ohio and the world.”
Pointing out that Ohio farmers are concerned with out-of-state efforts to ban modern food production and housing methods, Fisher pointed out that activist efforts similar to Proposition 2 in California will not only reduce the availability of food produced in Ohio, but also increase the risk of animal disease while jeopardizing food safety measures. Fisher positioned this initiative as a positive common sense, Ohio-based solution, and the right response to consumer concerns over animal well being.
Reminding those consumers that farm families feel a shared responsibility to employ humane management practices on the farm, Dick Isler, executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Producers Council, added that “Ohio hog farmers recognize that they have both a moral and ethical obligation to provide for the humane treatment of their animals. That’s why we fully support the creation of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board because it ensures that animal well-being is top-of-mind in all livestock production practices.”
Ohio ranks 2nd nationally in egg production, and the poultry industry is the segment of Ohio’s farm economy most directly impacted by activist-backed efforts to end meat and poultry production across the nation. “Ohio’s egg farmers are firmly committed to responsible animal care – it’s the right thing to do and it makes sense for our flocks,” said Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association. “We look forward to working with the new board of experts to advance our common goal of caring for our hens – to ensure that they are healthy, that our food supply is safe, and that nutritious, affordable eggs are available for Ohio consumers.”
The proposed legislation would give the Board authority to draft and implement animal care rules. “This ensures that Ohio decisions affecting livestock and poultry care will be the product of the best thinking of Ohio experts, including farmers, veterinarians and the Department of Agriculture,” said Fisher.
Regulations promulgated by the Board for the livestock and poultry industries will give weight to food safety, local availability and affordability and to best farm management practices for animal well-being. Because animal care is one of several primary concerns among farmers, the Board will also consider of biosecurity on livestock farms, animal disease prevention, food safety and food production volume and price.
If enacted, thirteen members will be appointed to the Board, including 10 by the Governor and one each by the House and Senate. The Ohio Director of Agriculture will serve ex-officio as the 13th member and as chair of the Board.
According to the legislation, the Board will comprise a broad base of experts in livestock and poultry care, including three family farmers, two veterinarians (one of whom is the state veterinarian), a food safety expert, a representative of a local humane society, two members from statewide farm organizations, the dean of an Ohio agriculture college and two members representing Ohio consumers.
The Humane Society of the United States, the leading anti-farm activist organization in the California Prop 2 campaign last fall, immediately decried the effort as a “big ag power grab.” The organization’s radical vegan CEO Wayne Pacelle dismissed the effort of the legislature as an attempt to “circumvent the input of all Ohioans into the process and divert attention from serious reform.”
Quite the contrary, Ohio farmers have taken a proactive step to reward consumers for their continued faith in the hard working families who produce the safe, affordable food Americans expect and enjoy.