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The Ohio-HSUS Deal & The Great Conundrum

At the last minute, animal ag in Ohio and the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) came to an agreement that avoided a statewide ballot initiative this fall.

At the last minute, animal ag in Ohio and the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) came to an agreement that avoided a statewide ballot initiative this fall.

First, a little background: HSUS had the 500,000 signatures required to put its initiative on the ballot, and expectations were that each side would spend $15 million or more waging war, with political analysts claiming the outcome a tossup.

So, the two sides came to an agreement that phased out sow crates and certain other practices, and let the power for deciding animal welfare issues remain with the state’s board. The concessions on hog and poultry production weren’t inconsequential but the phase-in and state board control was important for ag. Pragmatically, it’s easy to see why the compromise was better than spending $15 million on an unsure outcome.

The real discomfort for both sides is that the compromise leaves a lot of unanswered questions about exactly what it means. Animal rights activists really didn’t get much more in concessions than the industry was already doing or planning to do, but HSUS did score a PR coup. It was also able to get some production practices included that will play well in generating donations and more outrage against animal ag. It also saved millions of dollars on an electoral campaign with dubious final results.

The concern from the ag side, besides giving up some practices that were actually humane, is that nothing is really settled. If HSUS doesn’t get what it wants from the state’s board, it can come back with another initiative and their war chest.

We’ve seen this played out before in states like Colorado, where HSUS threatened a costly statewide ballot initiative, got its concessions and then moved onto extorting the next state.

Truth is, in the battle of attrition, we’re losing. HSUS is taking its national war chest and picking states off one by one, without having to expend their dollars to do it. Its approach is to select states with large enough urban populations that the majority of state residents are disconnected from agriculture (Ohio, Colorado, Arizona and Florida). During the process, they’re also changing the societal world view.

Wayne Pacelle, head of HSUS, is eloquent, articulate and even endearing in his comments – one almost gets the impression at times that his goal is actually animal welfare. But, some observers have commented that Pacelle really doesn’t want a rapid destruction of our industry – he wants the billions of dollars that can be captured through the death of a thousand cuts.

Unfortunately, we will eventually have no recourse but to put our faith in the electorate. It would behoove our industry to start implementing our game plan, because HSUS certainly has one and is executing it with a precision that would make Wal-Mart and Microsoft proud.