By Ty Higgins & Heather Hetterick
On April 24th at the conclusion of their lobby day at the statehouse, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) announced the creation of the Ohio Agriculture Council.
“As an Ohio cattle farmer, I believe small and mid-size family farmers have much common ground with the HSUS and Ohio consumers when it comes to the treatment of animals,” Mardy Townsend, a beef producer from Windsor who is a founding member of the HSUS council.
Not all of Ohio’s agriculture industry is excited about the new council, though.
“Our disappointment in what was announced by HSUS Wednesday is that this council not being inclusive,” said Mike Bumgarner, Vice President of the Center for Food and Animal Issues with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation. “They have a very narrow focus in representation of agriculture within their council. Our approach has always been to have all aspects of agriculture represented, including the consumer. We support their effort to create a dialogue but we feel they fell a little short from the standpoint of not embracing all aspects of production agriculture.
“The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation continues to reach out and have a dialogue with HSUS and other organizations that have important questions about food and farming,” said Bumgarner. “There are issues out there that need to be addressed and we continue to promote a full and open dialogue on those issues each and every day.”
That sentiment is echoed by the Ohio Pork Producers Council.
“It is the duty of the Ohio Pork Producers Council to support all Ohio pig farmers, regardless of size. Above all, we support farmers and their opportunity to choose how to run their operations,” said Dick Isler, Executive Vice President of the Ohio Pork Producers. “Our farmers work hard every day to do the right things, in terms of animal care, environmental responsibility and community support. We (OPPC) will continue to stand behind our members and defend their freedom to operate. The Ag Council of the HSUS lacks the willingness to support ALL types of livestock farmers.”
Exactly how the council plans to transition farmers to more humane animal management is unclear, espeically since HSUS was involved in the creation of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
“Farm Bureau’s largest concern is that HSUS has chosen to ignore Ohio’s leadership in protecting the well-being of farm animals,” Baumgartner said. “The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board was created by Ohio voters in 2009. Through it, all Ohioans have the ability to influence the rules that define acceptable farm animal care. HSUS is positioning its judgment as being superior to that of Ohio citizens.”
There is also confusion as to why a council backed by HSUS would work to pair consumers with livestock farmers, when their ultimate goal is promoting veganism.
In a 2006 speech, HSUS senior campaigner Paul Shapiro said, “Eating meat causes animal cruelty.”
“Our commitment as cattle farmers is to farming responsibly and ensuring the well-being of our herds, while producing safe, nutritious beef for Ohioans. This group has publicly stated they will advocate to reduce or replace the consumption of meat in Ohioans’ diets — a position that we clearly cannot support,” said Elizabeth Harsh, Executive Director of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association said.
Members of Ohio’s dairy industry also weighed in on the announcement.
“Ohio is home to several agriculture organizations that represent farmers who work diligently every day to assure that livestock are provided proper care and handling. In fact, agricultural leaders have proactively established state policies and are implementing livestock care programs to provide Ohioans with safe, affordable foods. Consumers can be confident that the foods they eat are produced by farmers who care about their animals,” said Scott Higgins, chief executive officer of the Ohio Dairy Producers Association.
Then there is the issue of the name that’s been chosen. Ohio Agriculture Council is just two letters different from the well-know Ohio Agricultural Council.
“Clearly because of the similarity of our names, the Ohio Agricultural Council is concerned about possible confusion among Ohioans about the good work of our organization, which was founded more than 40 years ago,” said David Barrett president of the Ohio Agricultural Council.
Much of the concern comes from the two groups very different takes on animal agriculture that could get confused.
“Our goal is to educate the public about the important role of agriculture in Ohio, provide scholarship support for agricultural education, and honor those who have made lifelong commitments to Ohio’s farm community through their induction to the Ohio Agricultural Hall of Fame. That important work should not be mistaken for this new group’s intention [based upon its affiliation with HSUS] to discourage Ohioans from consuming animal products,” Barrett said.