Tina Trenkner is the Deputy Editor for GOVERNING.com. She edits the Technology and Health newsletters.E-mail: email@example.com
Could agriculture be more proactive on farm animal welfare than animal advocates?
In 2008, almost two-thirds of California voters passed Proposition 2, the Standards for Confining Farm Animals initiative.
This initiative - supported by animal advocates to phase out certain enclosures for veal calves, breeding sows and egg-laying hens so they have room to move - was expected to spark reforms in other states. And last year, it did: Maine, Michigan and Ohio took measures to address animal welfare, and what happened in Ohio made livestock producers elsewhere aware that they, too, could be proactive on this issue.
Almost two-thirds of Ohio voters approved a Legislature-referred constitutional amendment, Issue 2, to create a state board for setting farm animal welfare guidelines. Ohio's proposed board would consist of farmers, veterinarians, consumers, a dean from a state agricultural college and a county humane society representative.
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) lamented the measure because the group sees the board as an "empty" action. Other states that have tried to implement state standards (via their state departments of agriculture) ended up adopting standards that HSUS doesn't support. This makes Paul Shapiro, senior director of the HSUS Factory Farming Campaign, skeptical that a state board can implement what his group considers humane reforms. "They give the appearance of regulation when in reality, they often amount to allowing the foxes to guard the henhouse," says Shapiro.
Livestock and poultry producers argue that animal welfare is an important issue to them - that their livelihood depends on taking care of their animals. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, however, thought there were multiple ways to arrive at animal care standards and wanted to include local farmers in that process, says Joe Cornely, spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
The American Farm Bureau Federation considers Ohio's Issue 2 a model for the agriculture community in being proactive on animal welfare issues, and invited Ohio leaders to share their experiences at its recent annual conference. Ohio legislators are currently drafting guidelines for the board, and lawmakers in Missouri are considering introducing legislation to create its own livestock board. While Ohio's board may be a model, it's still privy to HSUS influence: The group intends to gather signatures for a 2010 initiative requiring the board to adopt minimum standards for allowing certain animals the ability to move.