Humane Society forms own Ohio farm board

 
The Columbus Dispatch
By Mary Vanac
4/27/13

The Humane Society of the United States, perhaps best known for its work on behalf of household pets, is expanding its livestock-welfare work in Ohio.

The group has launched an Ohio council to connect small, natural and sustainable livestock farmers with consumers who are concerned about livestock.

Initially, the five farmers who make up the Ohio Agriculture Council of the HSUS aim to inform Ohio’s Humane Society membership about how farm animals should be raised.

Council members Warren Taylor, owner of Snowville Creamery in Pomeroy; William Miller, an organic farmer in southwestern Ohio; Mardy Townsend, a grass-fed beef farmer in Windsor; and Joe Logan, partner in Logan Brothers LLC, also want to remind industrial farmers that their animals are more than commodities, said Bruce Rickert, owner of Fox Hollow Farm in Knox County and a council member.

“We have (Humane Society) education to do, and we have farmer education to do about the way livestock are treated,” Rickert said. “We’re trying to build a bridge between those two communities.”

Livestock welfare is a highly charged issue in Ohio. In 2009, the Humane Society proposed an animal-care ballot issue that would have banned common practices that confine pigs, chickens, veal calves and other animals in tight spaces.

Instead, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and others proposed a constitutional amendment that created the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which issued its first set of rules in 2011.

The board’s comprehensive farm-animal rules put Ohio in the forefront of the nation. Even the Humane Society was satisfied.

But in the eyes of Taylor, the amendment threatened the livelihoods of small, sustainable or organic farmers.

“It galvanized a lot of us in the livestock industry,” said Taylor, who is concerned that the livestock-care board could give large-scale producers the upper hand in marketing their products.

“I don’t see our members looking to do anything to limit (big livestock producers) with regard to their practices, but rather making sure there is a level playing field,” he said.

Karen Minton, Ohio director of the Humane Society, said her organization wants the council “to digest laws, regulations and policies for how they affect farmers who are good stewards of the land and the environment so they can compete in the marketplace with traditional agricultural practices.”The Humane Society also is behind a few other agriculture councils in states such as Nebraska and Colorado.

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, which is not related to the new council, also serves small, sustainable food and farming interests.

“It’s important that these farmers be a part of the conversation,” said Renee Hunt, the group’s educational program director. “Our food system would look a lot different if people voted with their food dollars to match their ideals.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau, however, sees the council as another effort by the Humane Society to influence Ohio livestock care.

“Farm Bureau’s largest concern is that HSUS has chosen to ignore Ohio’s leadership in protecting the well-being of farm animals” through the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, the bureau said.

“Through (the board), all Ohioans have the ability to influence the rules that define acceptable farm-animal care,” the Farm Bureau said. “HSUS is positioning its judgment as being superior to that of Ohio citizens.”

Rickert, a longtime sheep farmer who has diversified into natural and sustainable beef, pork, chickens and eggs, sees the council mostly as an educational tool.

“We have a lot of education to do,” he said.