"HSUS slinks away from Ohio in face-saving move." That was the headline on a press release from HumaneWatch.org immediately after Governor Ted Strickland announced a deal between the Humane Society of the United States and Ohio ag groups on animal welfare and animal handling reforms last Wednesday.
Now David Martosko, editor of HumaneWatch - an HSUS watchdog, says his initial analysis was flat wrong.
"Early Thursday morning when copies started to leak out of the text of the actual agreement, it was quite a different picture than what was painted at the press conference," Martosko said. "Nobody in the press conference made it clear, for instance, that HSUS was going to have the option to cancel this agreement every couple of years if it felt like it wasn't getting enough love from the Farm Bureau. And the idea that HSUS was suddenly going to have influence over the Livestock Care Standards Board and was going to be allowed to fund research to influence the board; these are details that I think farmers should find very, very concerning."
Ohio Farm Bureau represented the Ohioans for Livestock Care coalition in the talks with HSUS. Martosko contends that HSUS President Wayne Pacelle was the shrewder negotiator.
"HSUS has only promised not to turn in the signatures this year. Those signatures don't have an expiration date on them; he doesn't have to start over if he wants to come back next year," Martosko said. "He could literally take those signatures and submit them on June 30, 2011. So he's going to hold those over the head of Ohio agriculture every year from now until at least 2020; and that's the big thing, he's going to have the Farm Bureau on a leash now."
More worrisome to Martosko is the impact the HSUS-Ohio deal could have on livestock and poultry growing practices nationally.
"There are about a dozen other states that have followed Ohio's lead setting up livestock boards," Martosko said. "The problem though is their standards are all a little bit different. HSUS is ultimately going to use this against agriculture. They are going to go to the federal government and say 'Look, we've got a dozen competing different standards; we need to unify them with a federal standard.'"
The big winner in all of this according to Martosko is Governor Strickland.
"He wanted this off the ballot desperately," Martosko said. "He had political advisors telling him that if this was on the ballot it was going to hurt him because you have every rural voter in the state coming out to polls in November. You have the Farm Bureau registering people to vote for the first time, and being that rural Ohioans are more Republicans than Democrats by a wide margin, you would have had a lot of people coming for the polls to vote against HSUS and then pulling and then pulling the lever for John Kasich while they were there. That's why Strickland was involved; he wanted this off the ballot for his own political purposes."
Martosko says he understands why Ohio farmers feel betrayed and says followers of HumaneWatch.org are feeling sold out as well.
"Right now the only people who are telling HSUS that they did the wrong thing are the really hardcore vegans who didn't think HSUS twisted the screws enough," Martosko said. "The comments from Ohio farmers are running against Farm Bureau, they are feeling sold out. I guarantee you Ohio pet breeders and those who sell exotic reptiles as pets feel thrown under the bus. Farm Bureau has made a lot of enemies and I think HSUS has managed to seem above the fray."