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February 02, 2010

Time for Farm Animal Welfare Reforms in Ohio

When I first saw the images of animal cruelty on the HBO documentary by Tom Simon and Sarah Teale, “Death on a Factory Farm,” I averted my eyes. A factory farmer in Wayne County, Ohio decided that he’d kill lame or otherwise unwanted pigs on his farm by hanging them by a chain from a fully extended front-end loader. The pigs flailed and struggled as the life drained from their tormented bodies. The video camera held by an undercover investigator with the Humane Farming Association recorded it all.

A trial ensued. The operation’s owner and his allies in the agribusiness industry in Ohio mounted a defense. He was found not guilty for the hangings. The judge ruled that Ohio had no standards forbidding strangulation and hanging of farm animals. The Ohio Pork Producers Council declared the outcome a “huge victory.” The agribusiness lobby provided $10,000 for the defense in the case.

Pig in crate
Humane Farming Association

This was a shameful outcome, and one that proves that there’s a gap in the law.

Earlier this week, we took action in an attempt to address such cruelty when it comes to farm animal welfare in Ohio. Along with groups including Farm Sanctuary, the Ohio SPCA, the Consumer Federation of America, the Ohio Sierra Club, several local humane societies, the Center for Food Safety, and other allies, we filed an initiative petition with the Attorney General of Ohio to direct the state’s newly constituted Livestock Board to set certain minimum humane standards that will prevent some of the worst and most inhumane and unsafe practices in industrial agriculture in Ohio. The measure bans the lifelong confinement of veal calves, breeding sows, and laying hens in small cages barely larger than the animals’ bodies, forbids the practice of strangulation as euthanasia method, and stipulates that euthanasia practices for pigs and cattle must be consistent with American Veterinary Medical Association standards, and bans the transport of downer cows and calves for the purpose of use in the human food supply. The measure directs the Livestock Board to adopt these minimum standards within six years.

Yesterday, I publicly encouraged the Livestock Board, whose members are expected to be appointed by spring, to do so immediately and not to wait for the six-year clock to run out.

All animals deserve humane treatment, including animals raised for food. Torturing them by hanging or dragging them or permanently immobilizing them in small cages is unacceptable and it should be against the law.

In February of last year, I met with the leaders of the Ohio Pork Producers Council, the Ohio Farm Bureau, and other agribusiness leaders and asked them to work with us to find a pathway to improve farm animal welfare in Ohio. Unlike agriculture leaders in neighboring Michigan who sat down with us and hatched a compromise that we could all get behind, Ohio’s agribusiness trade associations slammed the door on discussions and refused even to entertain a dialogue. They instead pressured the Legislature to place Issue 2 on the November 2009 ballot—to create a Livestock Board of 13 individuals to handle all policy actions related to farm animals.

The HSUS spent nearly no money opposing Issue 2, while proponents used millions from factory farming giants to pass it. Now that it’s passed, we look forward to working with the Livestock Board, and we’ve got a very specific and reasonable plan of action for the members to consider: pass the farm animal welfare initiative petition. We sincerely hope that the Livestock Board does good work on animal welfare, and that Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland appoints a majority of members to the body that will not be beholden to the Farm Bureau and the factory farming industry.

Sadly, the Ohio Farm Bureau has never supported the most fundamental animal welfare improvements in their state. It has not supported efforts to crack down on cockfighting, to upgrade the cruelty law, or to check the excesses of puppy mills—in addition to its work defending animal strangulation, the abuse of downers, and the confinement of breeding sows, veal calves, and laying hens. It’s no wonder, with the Ohio Farm Bureau blocking progress on animal welfare at every turn, then that the state has some of the weakest animal welfare policies in the nation.

Our task now is to gather 403,000 valid signatures of registered voters. We are asking all Ohio HSUS supporters to help with this process. Somebody needs to speak for the animals, including animals used in food production. The factory farms in Ohio are causing great distress to millions of creatures, in addition to generating enormous volumes of waste that pollutes the environment and makes life miserable for property owners nearby. It’s time that policies were adopted to check their most severe excesses.

Please visit OhioHumane.com to sign up to help.

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