Ohio Humane: a Smart Compromise?

Ohio Humane: a Smart Compromise?

 In Blog

It’s now been 24 hours since HSUS, Ohio’s governor, and the state’s agribusiness interests reached an agreement that involved dropping the 2010 Ohio Humane ballot initiative. Seems like a good time to ask whether HSUS struck a good deal.

Let’s get HSUS’ two main concessions out off the way. First, the agreement will have no effect on existing battery egg operations, and sets no timetable for banning these facilities. And second, currently existing hog producers will be allowed to continue using their existing gestation crates for the next fifteen years—a long-ass time by any measure.

These are two big sacrifices, since the ballot initiative—if passed—would have banned all of Ohio’s battery cages and gestation crates within six years. I think most informed observers were betting the ballot initiative would pass. So why did HSUS decide to make key concessions involving a campaign they probably would have won?

Given the great success of Prop 2 in California, which passed by the widest margin of any ballot initiative in the state’s history, it’s easy to be overconfident about the prospects for passing similar measures in other states. But comparing California to Ohio is hazardous to say the least. Not only do voters in these states hold different values, the agricultural community in Ohio is much stronger, and has far greater political pull.

So, while we may still would have won, there’s the chance we could have gotten beat in November and walked away with nothing—and little would harm the animals more than that.

A defeat at the polls would have been an enormous setback. Not only would all the time and expense of the Ohio campaign have gone for naught, but the defeat would make factory farming interests far less fearful of future campaigns. Think of what happened to Iron Mike’s aura of invincibility—and his boxing career—once Buster Douglas showed the world he was beatable.

Equally important is the tremendous expense, as well as the opportunity costs this agreement has saved. The costs associated with bringing this measure to a vote would have cost our side in the neighborhood of $10 million. And it would have monopolized the time of many of the animal protection movement’s key people.

With yesterday’s agreement, all this time and money is now freed up to target the next state on the list. What’s more, the agreement signals to other agribusiness leaders that Ohio factory farms thought they could lose if the ballot initiative went to voters.

Now let’s look at what the agricultural community has given up in exchange for the deal. There’s now an immediate moratorium on new battery cage facilities—and this is huge because HI-Q had planned to construct a brand new battery facility this year that would confine six million hens. That won’t happen now. Likewise, there’s an immediate ban on installing new breeder sow gestation crates. And veal crates will be outlawed by 2017, which is exactly what would have happened had the ballot initiative gone forward and passed.

Two significant measures to spare sick and injured farmed animals needless suffering have been accepted. Also, ag interests have thrown both puppy mills and cock fighters to the wolves; breaking ranks with the animal abusers that factory farmers in other states have treated as allies. As a result, Ohio will soon have felony-level cockfighting laws, and will no longer be the same kind of haven for puppy mills.

So let’s look at things from the perspective of Ohio’s factory farm industry. In exchange for throwing puppy mill owners, cock fighters, and veal interests under the bus, they’ve saved themselves a lot of time and money and given existing operations nine years of extra breathing room. They’ve further taken Ohio, which was one of the most animal-unfriendly states in the nation, and punted its status down to perhaps number 20 on the list. They’ve basically handed HSUS a win, in exchange for knowing that they won’t likely have to deal with a well-orchestrated campaign for several years to come.

In short, it’s a smart compromise for both sides. All things considered, HSUS would have been foolish to reject the offer that was on the table.

Finally, not that the opinion of individual factory farmers is worth a damn, but it’s good fun to read their reactions to the deal. And boy are they pissed.

And Feedstuffs, the nation’s top agriculture journal, just published a piece claiming that, with this agreement, “the future model for animal agriculture has likely been forever altered.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’d have loved to see Ohio voters stomp factory farming into the dirt this November, but HSUS made the right call. Ohio’s volunteer signature gatherers deserve all the credit for making this deal possible.

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