Livestock Care Board members discussed the agreement to keep animal care issue of the ballot at a recent meeting

Agreement doesn’t get rubber stamp from livestock board

Buckeye Farm News

Members of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board welcomed a recent agreement to keep animal care issues off of the fall ballot but said it is just one of the factors it will consider.

“We have to do what we feel is right,” said Ohio Department of Agriculture Director and Board Chairman Robert Boggs during a recent board meeting. Farm organizations and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) would have to decide what that meant for the deal, he said.

Farm groups are standing behind recommendations to the board that outline what they believe to be acceptable ways to handle several contentious animal care issues. As a result, HSUS has withdrawn its ballot initiative for 2010 and publicly supported the board’s mission.

But farm groups were also adamant that the Livestock Care Standards Board should keep its authority to determine animal care policy, as called for by Ohio voters.

“A recommendation is just that. No more, no less,” Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Jack Fisher told the board.

Farm Bureau also believes it is important to allow others to continue to offer ideas for consideration.

“Citizen input must be allowed and the privilege protected,” Fisher said.

As a result of 2009’s Issue 2, the board is required by law to base its decisions on certain factors such as best management practices, veterinary standards, animal health data and the protection of local food supplies.

Several board members indicated that it will be those guidelines, not the specific terms of the agreement, that will remain their focus. Perhaps the biggest change stemming from the agreement is that the board will not be racing against a fall ballot issue.

“Quality work can be done. We’re not rushing something to show something (by Election Day),” said board member Dominic Marchese. “It will be better for Ohio.”

While the board plans to consider the agreement as part of its broader discussions on animal care, some members cautioned against basing decisions on external politics.

“I think it’s important that we maintain our independence,” Bill Moody said.

And Jerry Lahmers noted that the agreement allows the group to go about its work without additional mandates.

“We’re still a separate entity; our integrity is intact,” he said.

Boggs said board members were rightly left out of the discussions leading to the agreement, because they are charged with judging the recommendations. In fact, engaging in political negotiations could have set them up to violate ethical standards.

“My initial reaction was that the rug had been pulled from underneath us. But as I look at it now, I think it’s a blessing in disguise,” said board member Robert Cole, acknowledging that a looming ballot campaign was placing pressure on the group.

Board member Jeff Wuebker, whose Darke County hog farm would be affected if certain recommendations in the agreement are adopted, said farmers in his community view the agreement favorably, and he believes it allows the industry to plan for the future with more certainty.

“It could set Ohio up as a leader. I think it will,” he said.

Some critics of the agreement point out that if the board ultimately doesn’t give HSUS what it wants, the group could return to Ohio with its ballot initiative.

But supporters say that was guaranteed to happen without the agreement. The difference now is that the Livestock Care Standards Board has time to do its work and prove itself to voters.

If HSUS plans to use its petition signatures in the future, it will have to keep its identical ballot language and timelines, which could become less relevant as the livestock board continues its work.

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