Our Take: The Agreement

Buckeye Farm News

It is tempting to approach every confrontation with the Humane Society of the United States  (HSUS) with their worst outcome as our highest priority.

But we know of no farmer who pays down loans, fuels the tractors or buys feed by dressing down HSUS. The profits in divisive ballot campaigns tend fall to the likes of television stations and political advisers.

For farmers, there are costs. If we spend millions to scrape out a win at the ballot box, but lose consumer confidence along the way, then we have gained very little.

It was a different scenario when it appeared that HSUS would settle for nothing less than constitutional mandates with the potential to devastate the farm economy. Farmers faced a fight for survival. The rallying cry went out.

But the world changed very quickly. Farm organizations were presented with the possibility of an agreement that could preserve the viability of Ohio’s farms and spare Ohioans an ugly campaign. And the accomplishments of Issue 2 would be protected.

It would be a decision that the farmer-leaders of Ohio Farm Bureau and the six major commodity organizations would not take lightly. In a ballot campaign, we would be rolling the dice on Ohio’s $90 billion agricultural industry, the associated jobs and individual farmers who stood to lose their farms.

It meant taking on a level of risk on behalf of Ohio agriculture that no farmer would likely tolerate in his or her own business.

So was there a way to manage that risk, build consumer confidence and put Ohio farmers in a stronger position to deal with future political challenges? The thornier question: would an agreement with HSUS be a betrayal of principles?

These elected farmer-leaders were charged with coming to a conclusion that others would surely second guess. It was a time to consider if doing what they believed to be right meant doing something that might be unpopular. It would take courage to proceed with the ballot battle, but it would also take courage to lower their fists when the crowd was chanting for a fight. The weight of that responsibility deserves respect.

It is important to remember that HSUS’s agenda looks years if not decades into the future. Ohio farmers need strategies that look just as far. It’s the difference between a chess match and going all in on the flip of a coin.

HSUS has proven that it can hire enough signature gatherers to put an issue on the ballot. And in Ohio, any group can come in at any time and bankroll an attempt to change the way farmers do business. Like it or not, it’s the open political system we all believe in.

But through the agreement reached with farm organizations, HSUS has publicly recognized the authority of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board and agreed to work with it. They sought unworkable mandates; they got reasonable recommendations. More importantly, the Livestock Care Standards Board, not HSUS, gets the final say.

If HSUS sours on the deal, and brings its signatures back to Ohio, they will no longer be confronting farmers. They will be clashing directly with the voter-approved livestock board and Ohio’s constitutional model of governance. The hill they are climbing gets much steeper.

Ultimately, HSUS’s attacks will be rendered increasingly ineffective as Ohio farmers win back the implicit trust of their consumers. In politics, money talks, but public opinion will drive the debate. The creation of the Livestock Care Standards Board and the agreement to protect its integrity will serve Ohio farmers and consumers well in the coming years.

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