New Ohio Ag Director Will Review Animal Care Deal

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TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's next agriculture director plans to take a closer a look at a deal arranged by the outgoing governor and animal rights activists that would bring tougher laws governing farm animals.

The agreement calls for a ban of certain crates and cages and prohibiting strangulation as a form of euthanasia for sick or injured animals.

"There are a lot more unanswered questions," James Zehringer, a former poultry farmer who's been a state lawmaker the past three years, said during an interview with The Associated Press.

His biggest concern is that the proposed regulations could make it too costly for new farm owners who want to get into the business by forcing them to make changes to existing farms.

"We want to grow agriculture," he said. "Ohio is losing 700 farms a year."

Ohio's largest farm organizations agreed to the new regulations last summer in a deal brokered by Gov. Ted Strickland because they wanted to thwart animal rights activists from asking voters to force farmers to change how they house livestock.

The state's agriculture leaders agreed to the compromise because they wanted to avoid a costly ballot fight, and the deal allowed them to delay some of the changes the animal rights groups wanted.

Changing or canceling the agreement most likely would lead to a statewide vote that the agriculture industry tried to avoid.

That's why Zehringer and incoming Republican Gov.-elect John Kasich will move carefully before deciding whether to make any revisions.

The Humane Society of the United States, which pushed for the new rules, already has said that it will revive the ballot issue if the deal falls apart.

Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based group, said he would be surprised if changes are made because the state's agriculture industry leaders backed the proposals.

"It would be a shame to derail it when we're so close on an agreement," he said.

The incoming administration has signaled that it might not be as willing to work with animal rights groups, saying they don't want out-of-state organizations dictating policy in Ohio.

"We're not going to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to the out-of-state activists," Zehringer said.

He's not convinced the animal rights groups will stop with what was outlined in the agreement, including a ban on the buying of exotic animals — such as bears, tigers and alligators — for pets.

"What's next?" Zehringer said. "Zoos and circuses? Outlawing horse racing? Eliminating fishing? There has to be an end."

Those within the agriculture industry have acknowledged that they have not done enough to explain why they use cages to house chickens and pigs. They contend that the cages protect animals from predators and each other, keep barns cleaner and make it easier to inspect and treat the animals.

They also must combat an image problem that has grown out of graphic videos that show what looks like inhumane treatment.

"Those images, I couldn't even watch them," Zehringer said. "That tells you how effective they are."

Still, he said nearly all farmers do things the right way and that those who don't should be prosecuted.

He sees a big part of his new job as being a cheerleader for agriculture, bridging the gap between farmers and those who have no idea how a modern farm operates.

"It's a different type of farm," he said. "It's much better. It's not that Rockwell painting."

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.



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