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Published: Friday, 10/30/2009

Ballot question calls for board to regulate livestock operations

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS - Who better than a farmer to determine good agricultural practice, ask those behind a ballot issue that would establish a new government panel to regulate a livestock industry connected to one of every seven Ohio jobs.

But critics contend Issue 2 is really a pre-emptive strike against real reform in the confinement and treatment of animals in the food chain. It's the equivalent of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, they said.

Voters will be asked Tuesday whether to amend the Ohio Constitution to create a 13-member Livestock Care Standards Board to write regulations for the treatment of everything from dairy cows and pigs to turkeys and egg-laying hens. The panel would be chaired by the state director of agriculture, whose department would enforce the new standards.

The other members, 10 named by the governor and two by legislative leaders, would consist of three family farmers, two veterinarians, a food safety expert, a representative of a county humane society, two representatives of statewide farm organizations, the dean of an Ohio agricultural college, and two representatives of Ohio consumers.

In setting the standards, the panel would consider best farm-management practices, animal death and illness rates, food safety, and local food availability and prices.

"All the Ohio farmers I know are doing everything they possibly can to ensure the well-being, in my case, of the chickens," said Tom Hertzfeld II of Hertzfeld Poultry Farm in Grand Rapids. The farm has 1.1 million chickens, producing about 90,000 dozen eggs a day.

"We're concerned about the health of the bird and a safe food supply," he said. "Safety for the consumer is of the greatest concern to us."

He said the new panel of knowledgeable experts would allow state farm practices to evolve with science and research.

But Tom Harrison, a retired part-time sheep farmer from nearby Wayne, said the proposed constitutional amendment was rushed to the ballot by lawmakers and Gov. Ted Strickland because they feared the Washington-based Humane Society of the United States would have its own ballot issue ready in 2010.

"The factory farms are the driving force," Mr. Harrison said. "I hope the people get educated. The Ohio Department of Agriculture is supposed to oversee livestock factory farms. Why do we need to have another board? It's another layer of bureaucracy, which is ridiculous.

"It's not going to be an unbiased board," he said. "Both sides should sit down and negotiate this and come up with an agreement everybody can work with."

That's what happened recently in Michigan, where agribusiness negotiated with animal-rights groups on a bill that gave the humane society much of what it wanted but gave farmers more time to make the transition.

Michigan became the seventh state to enact such a law. Laws in California, Arizona, and Florida were enacted via the ballot while Colorado, Maine, Oregon, and Michigan have done it through legislation.

The Humane Society of the United States, which does not have a direct affiliation with county humane societies, had planned to circulate petitions to put a proposed statute directly before lawmakers that would have targeted the confinement of calves for veal, breeding hogs, and laying hens.

The bill would have required those animals to have enough room in their cages or pens to stand, lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs or wings.

If Issue 2 should pass, the society said it would instead have to consider the more time-consuming and expensive avenue of placing its own constitutional amendment on the ballot to write over what voters had just adopted.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-0496.



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