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Friday, July 3rd, 2009

State rep. tells farmers to get behind resolution

By Nancy Allen
Production agriculture is under attack, State Rep. Jim Zehringer, R-Fort Recovery, told a large group attending an agriculture breakfast meeting in Celina on Thursday.
In particular, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has promised to put on a ballot initiative that would outlaw battery cages for chickens, gestation crates for pregnant sows and veal crates for calves.
In response, a resolution supported by Gov. Ted Strickland and both the Ohio House and Senate proposes a ballot issue in November to amend the Ohio Constitution to create a 13-member Livestock Care Standards Board.
Zehringer said he could not say whether passage of the resolution would stop HSUS from forcing the changes through their own ballot initiative, but it would make it more difficult for them to do so.
"My understanding is with the amendments that were added to the resolution, you would then have to change that specific constitutional amendment," he said.
The state's new livestock board would have the authority to establish and implement standards governing the care and well-being of livestock and poultry, such as agricultural best management practices, biosecurity, disease prevention, animal morbidity and mortality data, food safety practices and the protection of local, affordable food supplies.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture would be responsible for administering and enforcing these standards.
"No one knows what the standards are going to be. The yet to be formed board would determine that," Zehringer said. "It will likely make livestock farmers do a certain amount of education they didn't need to do before."
The board would consist of the director of agriculture, who would be the chairperson, 10 members appointed by the governor, one person appointed by the speaker of the House and one person appointed by the president of the Senate.
Zehringer said the HSUS cannot get its issue on the ballot this year because the deadline is passed, but they could next year.
"We're hoping this (Livestock Care Standards Board) will be strong enough and be there forever," he said.
The HSUS has said it wants to outlaw battery cages for layer hens, gestation crates for pregnant sows and veal cages for calves. Animal rights activists argue the way some livestock is confined is inhumane and cruel, while livestock producers argue that modern animal housing protects animals from extremes of weather, predators and other outdoor hazards and reduces mortality losses.
Ag industry officials fear the HSUS changes would cost farmers millions to build larger facilities that hold fewer animals, force farmers, particularly layer hen operations, to move out of state, force the closure of smaller farms and increase the cost of food at the grocery store.
Zehringer said if the resolution for the state's Livestock Care Standards Board passes and still the HSUS tries to put forth its own ballot initiative, then they have a hidden agenda.
"Why would they want to trump an animal care board that is in place in the state?" he said. "We just want to make sure we have a good safe food and a humane way to treat animals."
The next monthly Mercer County ag breakfast meeting is 7:30 a.m. Aug. 6 at the Mercer County Central Services Building in Celina.
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