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Published: Thursday, 11/18/2010

Ohio's farming future

An Ohio lawmaker heavily involved in establishing a venue for defining acceptable farm-animal practices in the state has been selected to lead the Ohio Department of Agriculture under the administration of Gov.-elect John Kasich.

That background, and Rep. Jim Zehringer's history as a former farmer, should serve him well as he oversees regulation of the state's largest industry.

The third-term Republican representative from Fort Recovery in Mercer County helped shepherd the legislative process that created the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters last year. The state panel is charged with setting the criteria for the confinement and slaughter of cows, pigs, and egg-laying poultry.

Validation of the board countered an effort by the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States to amend the Ohio Constitution with new standards in livestock care. Support for State Issue 2 rose, in part, out of resentment that out-of-state activists could dictate agricultural affairs in Ohio.

Mr. Zehringer, a former chicken-and-fish farmer, says input on farm animal care is welcome, but when it comes to livestock in Ohio, "we're relying on that board to lead us in the right direction." But that assertion was challenged this year by the humane society, which accused the board of being controlled by mega-farm operations whose primary goal was maintaining the status quo.

Yet before an initiative, crafted by the society, could proceed to the November ballot calling for stricter standards, a deal was struck to mitigate the movement. Gov. Ted Strickland and several farm organizations agreed to incorporate some of what the group wanted in better livestock practices, while giving farmers more time to comply.

It's unclear how that agreement will fare under the Kasich administration, but collaboration with disparate parties from veterinarians, farmers, consumer advocates, and animal-rights groups should be encouraged to continue in the interest of agricultural progress in Ohio. Mr. Zehringer appears a good choice to build on the board.

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