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Animal welfare groups led by the Humane Society of the United States have agreed to abandon a fall ballot issue against animal cruelty as part of a deal with state farm groups brokered by Gov. Ted Strickland.
The agreement was struck just ahead of Wednesday's signature deadline. Humane Society president Wayne Pacelle said supporters had collected ample names to qualify for the ballot and had polling showing strong support.
Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president Jack Fisher acknowledged that graphic video secretly recorded at an Ohio dairy farm and released in May by Chicago-based animal welfare group Mercy For Animals may have turned some Ohioans sour on the state's signature industry.
"It certainly elevated the issue, because that was animal cruelty in its highest form," he said.
A dairy farm worker was charged with 12 counts of cruelty to animals after the release of the video, which showed cows being kicked and poked with pitchforks.
Strickland said heading off an expensive, acrimonious ballot fight was also in the best interests of the state -- freeing up millions of campaign dollars for agricultural research and animal protection efforts.
"What we've arrived at here is a very common sense solution," Strickland said at a late afternoon news conference. "It's a recognition that we live in the real world, and it's also a recognition that we want to try to do better. So that's why both sides are willing to work together, to accomplish a worthy goal but to do so without damage to the agricultural economy of our state."
The pact, as yet unsigned, is the fifth such negotiated agreement in the nation, Pacelle said. The Humane Society has also cut such deals in Maine, Oregon, Colorado and Michigan. Three states have passed ballot measures similar to the Ohio initiative, Pacelle said.
The deal calls for Strickland, the Humane Society, the Ohio Farm Bureau and their partners to join forces in favor of tougher laws governing farm animals, including provisions that ban certain crates and cages and the use of strangulation as a form of euthanasia.
It also calls for setting felony-level penalties for cock fighting, cracking down on puppy mills and promoting a ban on future exotic pet purchases.
Pacelle said the deal isn't just about animal agriculture.
"This is a comprehensive animal welfare package that will move Ohio in a great direction on animal welfare," he said.
Fisher said fighting the ballot push would have cost millions of dollars and it was injecting uncertainty into the state's farm industry, responsible for one in seven Ohio jobs.
"This is all about risk management for our industry," Fisher said. "It's a commitment on behalf of the Humane Society and the agricultural community. We are both interested in animal care and animal welfare. This is about a way to achieve that."
The Mercy For Animals video was recorded in an undercover investigation at Conklin Dairy Farms Inc., a fourth-generation farm operation based in Plain City. It showed workers holding down newborn calves and stomping on their heads. It showed one worker wiring a cow's nose to a metal bar near the ground and repeatedly beating it with another bar while it bled.
The farm called the mistreatment reprehensible and unacceptable. The worker who was charged, Billy Joe Gregg Jr., pleaded not guilty.
The animal cruelty measure was the second fall ballot issue to evaporate in a week. On Monday, the committee seeking a referendum on a law allowing slots to be installed at Ohio's seven horse tracks announced it was withdrawing its issue as a result of the state's changing gambling landscape.