Ohio voters will be spared both this year, as a national animal rights group and the Ohio Farm Bureau reached an agreement Wednesday that will avoid a face-off and keep a ballot issue on livestock care off the November ballot.
For Ohio farmers like Jeff Schwab, whose three farms in Butler County breed and sell more than 17,000 hogs a year, this means they'll have years to change their practices instead of potentially only months if the threatened initiative passed.
"Instead of basing it totally on emotion, we'll be basing it on science," Schwab said.
Wednesday's deal follows last year's constitutional amendment creating the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which farm groups lobbied hard for. It was an open attempt to prevent the Humane Society of the United States from pushing a tougher measure this year that farmers feared would drive them out of business.
HSUS officials say they have the half-million signatures needed for that effort, which would prohibit confining farm animals so they can't turn around, lie down, stand up or fully extend their limbs. Similar measures have succeeded in states such as California, Michigan and Florida.
Both sides are claiming victory in the compromise.
"One of animal agriculture's most vocal critics has agreed that the Livestock Care Standards Board is the proper authority to handle difficult questions about farm animal care," said Jack Fisher, Farm Bureau executive vice president.
Wednesday's agreement, shepherded by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, included a number of recommendations for the livestock board.
They include a ban on veal crates by 2017; a ban on new pig gestation crates and a 15-year deadline to do away with such existing practices; a moratorium on permits for new battery cages for egg-laying hens; and a ban on the transport of downer cows.
Other agreements include the enactment of legislation toughening penalties on cockfighting and so-called puppy mills, and a ban on exotic animals.
"This agreement moves us forward on all of the components of the proposed ballot measure as well as other important advances for animals, too," said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO.
"We were confident in our ability to prevail, but not certain, and I think the Farm Bureau had the same take," he said.
Farm Bureau officials said the deal will leave the livestock industry "less vulnerable to emotional video used to sway public opinion on farm animal care. Farmers, their organizations and allies will not be forced into a multi-million dollar media battle."