Despite the claim to have collected 450,000 signatures for its announced November 2010 California-style Proposition 2 ballot in Ohio, the HSUS accepted a negotiated settlement brokered by Gov. Ted Strickland. Reactions from industry observers and participants indicated surprise at the speed and secrecy of negotiations among the principals, the Ohio Farm Bureau and the HSUS, which were concluded on June 30.
Both sides are claiming victory in their comments and spins. The HSUS has been active in boosting its claimed gains. Obviously, the organization has saved the money and resources it would otherwise have spent on promoting the ballot initiative only a year after a mandate to establish the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board was passed with a 2-to-1 majority.
The HSUS did manage to cross off a number of items from its wish list, including the housing of pregnant sows and calves in alternative group systems, increasing penalties on cock and dog fighting, greater regulation of breeding kennels and a ban on the sale and possession of exotic mammals and reptiles.
As a practicing veterinarian involved in intensive agriculture for the past 40 years, I regard these concessions as reasonable and ultimately beneficial from the aspects of production efficiency and consumer acceptance. Separating poultry and especially egg production in the context of Ohio, from other animal enterprises, is probably an advantage for the industry.
If any future ballots are brought before the electorate there will be less inclination for the uninformed to vote for an HSUS-promoted package initiative if it is devoid of emotional issues relating to domestic and exotic pets, hogs and calves.
The HSUS has clearly conceded in the area of egg production. The agreement places a moratorium on any new egg production facilities using battery cages. There is no restraint on existing producers from upgrading units or expanding by erecting new houses or installing more modern manure belt cage systems which increase hen capacity within existing houses.
It is evident that the HSUS recognizes the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board as the pre-eminent body responsible for regulations relating to housing and management of farm animals. In a press release issued July 1, HSUS President Wayne Pacelle indicated that the HSUS “will issue a statement supporting the mission and purpose of the OLCSB and will engage in work with the board and will conduct independent research projects and studies which will be submitted to the OLCSB.”
Should the HSUS be dissatisfied with the outcome of the agreement, it reserves the right to reintroduce a ballot initiative. Subject to the provisions of the agreement being fulfilled by January 2014 it will be extended to 2017 and then subsequently through 2020.
The question arises as to whether the agreement is “good” or “bad” for the egg industry in Ohio. One commentator cynically stated that “any deal with the devil is a bad deal”. The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, which successfully promoted the 2009 ballot to establish the OLCSB, was in the forefront of the anticipated 2010 campaign. Its executive vice president, Jack Fisher, stated that “ballot initiatives are expensive,” adding that “the agreement was about agricultural unity.”
It would appear that the industry was not as unanimous in its opposition to the HSUS as press releases and websites would imply. Elements of the Ohio Egg Industry were disinclined to commit large sums to opposing the ballot initiative. In the absence of either an actual proposition to be voted on or an ongoing campaign it was obviously premature to accurately gauge public opinion through polling.
The significant question is: What induced HSUS to engage in a negotiated settlement? This action is out of character with its prior confidence fueled by California’s Proposition 2. Previous intransigence derived from a zealous commitment to a vegan agenda appeared to be lacking in the Ohio issue.
Could it have been the recent revelations by HumaneWatch.org? Have recent full-page newspaper advertisements and negative publicity regarding the finances, structure and ultimate intent of HSUS been a deciding factor? Has HSUS recognized that to maintain donor support they must be perceived as being more mainstream, less confrontational and more reasonable?
It is clear that the dust has not settled over the issue of confined housing of laying hens and that the poultry industry should not accept that HSUS has changed its objectives or methods. The Ohio Compromise does not appear to be a victory for either party. History reminds us of the futility of the numerous agreements leading up to the Civil War and the infamous Munich Pact of 1939 which promised “peace in our time”.
Industry leaders should not accept a “business as usual” mode of operation assuming ongoing production devoid of opposition by the HSUS. The activities of this organization should be carefully monitored with special reference to its financing and expenditures and all legal avenues should be pursued to expose the basic agenda of the HSUS in imposing their future vision on our nation.