Ohioans could vote on animal housing law in November

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A group of organizations is trying to add to Ohio's November ballot an initiative that could ban some animal housing, slaughter, and euthanasia practices.

The petition filed Jan. 27 by members of Ohioans for Humane Farms would ban within six years some confinement livestock housing, the slaughter of any nonambulatory cattle, and the euthanasia of cattle or pigs by strangulation. The group's Web site listed about two dozen organizations backing the initiative.

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, said his organization would support the initiative, but Ohioans for Humane Farms is an independent political committee.

The groups need more than 400,000 signatures for the initiative to reach the ballot, and Ohioans for Humane Farms hoped to collect 600,000.

In November 2009, Ohio residents voted for a constitutional amendment that established the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, a 13-member panel with the power to regulate animal care practices. The Ohio Farm Bureau backed the creation of the entity, which was at least partly intended to deter animal welfare-related ballot initiatives.

The initiative, if approved, would force the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to, within six years, require that veal calves, pregnant sows, and egg-laying hens have room to lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs, and turn around freely for most of any day. But it contains exemptions for cases involving research, veterinary care, transportation, exhibitions, and slaughter. Pregnant sows are exempt for seven days prior to an expected birth.

The board would also have to require that all on-farm euthanasia of cattle or pigs be performed by methods deemed acceptable by the AVMA, to prohibit euthanasia of cattle or pigs by strangulation, and to prohibit the transportation, sale, or receipt of cattle intended for use as food but unable to walk.

The AVMA Guidelines on Euthanasia do not include strangulation among acceptable methods.

Violating any of the new rules would be punishable by up to one year of incarceration and a $1,000 fine.

In response to the initiative, the Ohio VMA released a statement that complex livestock housing decisions should be addressed through legislative approaches, not constitutional ballot initiatives. The AVMA policy, "Establishing Public Policy to Ensure Animal Well Being," states that ballot initiatives are poorly designed for addressing complex issues.

Jack Advent, executive director of the Ohio VMA, said he expects that, if the initiative is placed on the ballot, his organization will have an important role as voters look to veterinarians for opinions on animal housing.

"They're going to want to know what a veterinarian thinks first and foremost about this before any other group," Advent said. "It's obviously an extremely important responsibility and one that our membership and our board take with the upmost seriousness."

The Ohio VMA will work to give members information on animal housing systems and scientific research into those systems and to provide opportunities to engage colleagues and VMA staff and officers in dialogue on the issues, Advent said.

"By giving everybody an opportunity to learn, to interact, we think that will lead us to a more representative decision of what's in the best interest for the public, the animals, agriculture, and the profession," Advent said.