Livestock groups hesitant to take position on new proposal
By SEAN ELLIS
Idaho livestock and horse groups aren't sure an Idaho Cattle Association proposal to add a felony provision to the state's animal welfare law is the way to block a proposed animal cruelty ballot initiative.
The Idaho Humane Society, Stop Torturing Our Pets, and other animal welfare groups are now gathering signatures for a 2012 ballot initiative. Their proposal would define animal torture, increase fines, and add a felony animal cruelty charge for third-time offenders.
If ICA members give their approval during their annual meeting in November, the cattle group will back a bill during the 2012 Idaho Legislature making it a felony to be convicted of a third animal cruelty offense.
Other groups have yet to rally behind the proposal.
"We're all for the humane treatment of animals -- it's the right thing to do to take care of your animals and make sure they're not mistreated -- but I'd have to see the specifics of it first," said Brad Thornton, president of the Idaho Pork Producers Association.
Animal groups and the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation have successfully opposed previous efforts to change the state's animal welfare law because they fear it would open a door for radical environmental groups that oppose animal agriculture.
"I can't say we'd support it, I can't say we'd oppose it," said Bob Naerebout, executive director of the Idaho Dairymen's Association. "We haven't seen the legislation so we wouldn't have a position on it yet."
Before dairymen would support the idea, "the cattlemen are going to have to sit down with other cattle groups and explain what they're trying to accomplish," he said. "It needs to be discussed thoroughly before the dairymen decide."
IFBF spokesman John Thompson said the group was leery of opening a door for radical groups but would study the proposal closely before deciding whether to support or oppose it.
Idaho Cutting Horse Association President Preston Skaar said it's premature for his group to take a stance on the proposal, but he did say he understands the thinking behind it.
"I can see why they'd want to do that," he said. "It shows, 'We already think about this. We're one step ahead of you.'"
ICA Executive Vice President Wyatt Prescott said the cattle group won't pursue the idea without widespread industry support and will spend a lot of time before November explaining the proposal to various groups.
"We want to represent the industry as a whole," he said. "We want everyone to have a voice."
During the group's recent mid-year conference in Elko, Nev., Rick Stott, executive vice president of Agri Beef Co. in Boise, told ICA members he hoped the legislation would pre-empt the need for the proposed 2012 initiative, which he warned would be much more severe and guaranteed to pass.
"The chances of this (initiative) passing are 100 percent," said Stott, an ICA representative. "I can guarantee you this referendum ... would be a lot more extreme."
Passing the felony provision makes Idaho less of a target for the well-funded Humane Society of the United States, Prescott said.
"HSUS has pledged to come into our state and they're more anti-animal agriculture than they are an animal welfare cause," he said. "In my mind, if we put a felony provision on the books, they would have no reason to run a referendum."
Prescott said the ICA won't be bashful about its support of the legislation, which is a chance to show the public cattlemen truly do care about their animals.
"As an industry, we don't support cruelty to animals and we want the general public to know that," he said.
Stott said the proposed legislation would only deal with the felony provision. It would not tackle other issues such as attempts by some groups to redefine animal torture.
Normal industry practices such as branding are exempt from the state's animal cruelty provisions.
The cattle group is concerned that if the legislation doesn't pass and the referendum moves forward, animal welfare groups backing it could seek to remove some of those exemptions.