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Puppy mills muddy Issue 2 debate

By jim Published: October 30, 2009

By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer

- Opponents believe plan would protect breeders; supporters say it wouldn't -

There's a new twist to the debate surrounding Ohio's Issue 2 to create a 13-member state board to oversee the care of farm animals.

Armed with their own legal opinions, supporters and opponents are arguing over how Issue 2 might affect Ohio's large commercial dog-breeding operations — so-called puppy mills.

Supporters, including the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, are convinced Issue 2 covers only farm animals and livestock.

The federation believes that claims that Issue 2 covers dogs are ''pretty darn far-fetched . . . and a misinterpretation or deliberate misrepresentation'' of its intent, said Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Columbus-based farm group.

Delcianna Winders, director of education and advocacy at the New York-based Farm Sanctuary and an opponent of Issue 2, said it is ''an unquestioned possibility'' that Ohio's dog-breeding operations could fall under the jurisdiction of the board, if approved by voters Nov. 3.

The problem is that ''livestock'' is not fully defined in Issue 2 materials, Winders said.

That raises ''a major concern'' among animal activists that the proposed state board could step in and oversee dog-breeding operations and block further restrictions on puppy
mills, she said.

Such a scenario could result in Issue 2 protecting dog-breeding operations that a statewide coalition of Ohio animal groups is targeting, said Mary O'Connor-Shaver, a spokeswoman for the Coalition to Ban Ohio Dog Auctions.

''We're convinced of it in the animal-activist community,'' she said.

Her group has won approval from the Ohio Ballot Board to begin collecting 120,700 signatures in support of a proposed Ohio ban on the auction of dogs.

The petitions are needed to place the proposed law before the legislature in January.

If lawmakers don't act in 90 days on the proposal, her group could then attempt to gather more signatures to place it on the 2010 ballot.

The Ohio secretary of state's office is unable to resolve the question of dog breeding and Issue 2, spokesman Jeff Ortega said. The ballot language, set by the Ohio Ballot Board, ''is what it is,'' he said.

It might take an opinion from Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray or a court decision to determine whether Issue 2 would affect dog-breeding operations, he said.

If passed, Issue 2 would amend the Ohio Constitution to create the Livestock Care Standards Board, which would have sole authority to decide standards for care and treatment of livestock and poultry in Ohio.

It would be charged with prescribing ''standards for animal care and well-being that endeavor to maintain food safety, encourage locally grown and raised food and protect Ohio farms and families.''

The state legislature voted in June to put Issue 2 on the ballot as Ohio's farm community fought a proposal by the Humane Society of the United States to modify how Ohio farms confine egg-laying chickens, breeding pigs and veal calves.

Action in California

In 2008, the Humane Society played a key role in a California vote that changed the way farmers there must care for and shelter farm animals. Ohio became the group's next target, largely because of the state's 30 million egg-laying hens.

Those animals should be kept in cages or crates where they have room to live and move, said Paul Shapiro, senior director of the factory farming campaign for the Humane Society.

The animals need enough room to stand up, lie down, turn around and extend their limbs. Anything less is cruel to animals, bad for food safety and inherently inhumane, Shapiro said.

At the center of the debate are industry practices that provide 67 square inches of cage floor space per egg-laying chicken, veal calf crates that are 22 inches wide and gestation crates for breeding pigs that are 2 feet wide, he said.

There are no federal or state rules on the size of farm animal cages or pens, only recommended minimums from producer groups.

The Humane Society unsuccessfully proposed negotiations to settle the issue in Ohio.

The society has said it might ask Ohio voters in late 2010 to approve California-style rules on the treatment of poultry and livestock.

Before that could be done, the Ohio legislature approved the proposed constitutional amendment.

The board would be made up of one food-safety expert; two members of statewide farm groups; one veterinarian; the state veterinarian from the Ohio Department of Agriculture; the dean of an Ohio agriculture department at a college or university; one representative of the local Humane Society; two members of the public; and three family farmers, one chosen by the governor, one by the speaker of the House and one by the president of the Senate.

The director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture would chair the board.

Ohio farm interests say the Humane Society's plan is unneeded and more restrictive, takes control of Ohio farms out of Ohio and could increase farmers' costs, said Keith Stimpert, senior vice president of public policy with the 230,000-member Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

The Ohio Poultry Association, the Ohio Pork Producers Council, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Grocers Association support Issue 2.

Opponents include the Ohio Farmers Union, the Sierra Club and the Ohio League of Women Voters.

Activist's view

The debate over how Issue 2 might affect Ohio's dog-breeding operations — centered in Amish areas of Holmes County — surfaced about six weeks ago.

That's when Laura Allen of the Animal Law Coalition in Ithaca, N.Y., wrote that future restrictions on dog-breeding operations in Ohio would be blocked if Issue 2 were approved.

Ohio has 218 licensed dog breeders, more than half based in Berlin, Millersburg and Sugarcreek. In addition, Holmes County in 2008 had 537 kennels.

Ohio is No. 7 in the United States for its dog-breeding operations. Missouri is No. 1.

''There is no reason to think Issue 2 won't be said to apply to dogs and prevent regulation of commercial dog breeders or puppy mills,'' Allen wrote in a blog. ''The words 'livestock' and 'animal' are left undefined in Issue 2.''

Citing a section of the Ohio Revised Code, Allen wrote: ''In Ohio, dogs are 'subject to like restraints as other livestock.' ''

''The sense of Issue 2 is food-related, but there is a big catch-all that states this board shall 'prescribe standards for animal care and well-being that endeavor . . . to protect Ohio farms and families.' Really broad, undefined authority that could be easily construed to include dogs and thus prevent regulation of puppy mills,'' she said.

In a telephone interview, Allen said she feels strongly that a problem exists. ''It's definitely not a stretch,'' she said.

Cornely of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation said Issue 2 was designed to deal with food animals, not dogs. ''It's about livestock and poultry. That's the answer right there,'' he said.

He cited a legal opinion provided by Maria Armstrong, a lawyer in Columbus with Bricker & Eckler.

Armstrong said the new board, if approved, would not have authority over dogs unless the Ohio legislature changes the definition of livestock.

Cornely said he suspected Issue 2 opponents are raising the dog-breeding question to ''spin to their advantage.''

Allen is married to Russ Mead, the general legal counsel for the Farm Sanctuary, which is a partner with the Humane Society in trying to get Ohio to change its confinement of farm animals, said Farm Sanctuary spokeswoman Meredith Turner.

The Humane Society was unfamiliar with the arguments over puppy mills and Issue 2, Shapiro said.

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