Initiative Petition 13 (IP13), a draft ballot titled the Abuse, Neglect and Assault Exemption Modification and Improvement, was filed in November by David Michelson, a Portland animal rights activist. After verifying nearly 1,100 sponsorship signatures, it was released last month by the Oregon Elections Division.

If passed by voters, most exceptions for farming, along with ranching and hunting under the state’s animal abuse laws would be removed. Petitioners have until July 8 to collect the required 112,020 signatures to place the proposal on the November 2022 ballot.

Oregon dairy farmer, Derrick Josi addresses several key messages and issues, including IP13 on his blog, TDF Honest Farming. He states, “I’m not a policymaker, and I didn’t go to law school; however, I have dedicated my life, and career, to caring for a dairy herd that resides on a dairy farm that has called Oregon home for more than 100 years.”

Josi, along with his family, milk 500 Jersey cows on the Tillamook Coast. He says that the industry needs to take these initiatives seriously, as they are well funded and being coordinated by the same people behind the scenes. “Of course, this worries me, I live in Oregon, and they are portraying this as good for animals,” Josi adds. “Most people will just read the title and vote for the animals.”

Tami Kerr, executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association (ODFA), said the initiative is not about protecting animals, but outlawing farming. “Preventative herd health practices shouldn’t be criminalized,” Kerr says. “Breeding practices that are safer for animals shouldn’t be criminalized.”

A dozen agricultural groups, including ODFA, submitted comments earlier this month to the state’s attorney general office asking for amendments to the ballot’s draft, requesting language to communicate the effects of the measure more clearly.

An exemption for “good animal husbandry” is baked into the law which includes practices like branding and dehorning cattle. IP13 would not only eliminate that exception but also slap a crime on, as it now would classify breeding livestock as sexual abuse of an animal, a Class C felony. The measure does not stop there but also would take away protections for hunting, fishing, rodeos, slaughtering livestock, wildlife management, pest control, scientific research and more.

According to dairy producer, Robert Kircher of Forest Glen in Dayton, if IP13 would pass, it would ultimately put them out of business. “Yes, it worries me, but in the same breath, as a dairy farmer I know that we are going above and beyond making sure animal care is our number one focus,” he says.

The Willamette Valley producer continues saying that IP13 puts liability on dairy farmers by labeling it abuse for practices such as breeding a cow, or assisting with a birth, or performing pregnancy checks. “If a calf is coming out backward, as a dairy farmer, we would not be able to assist,” he adds. “And this could cause life-threatening issues to the dam and the calf.”

According to the Yes on IP13 campaign website, the measure does not change the definition of abuse — rather it modifies existing laws to hold everyone to the same ethical standard. “It would create a system in Oregon where farmers were no longer exempt from animal cruelty laws,” the campaign states. “It would require that animals be allowed to truly live a good life free from abuse, neglect and sexual assault.”

Continuing to utilize his social branded podiums, Josi’s TDF Honest Farmer platform is based on extreme transparency built on a foundation of honesty. With that, he hopes to engage with consumers, along with talking about topics, like IP13. “More importantly I hope I reach enough people that they don’t get the signatures needed to be placed on the ballot,” Josi adds.

Kircher agrees and this is one reason his farm feels it is vital to showcase the on-farm image to state legislative staff, as they open their barn doors annually, showing how animals are cared for and how milk is produced. “It’s important to have continued education on how our food is brought to the table, especially since a growing population is removed from ag and farmers work so hard to feed the world,” Kircher says.

In addition, opponents, like ODFA say the result would effectively turn farmers into criminals. “IP13 is beyond crazy, the proponent’s goal is to shut down production agriculture,” Kerr says. “Oregon is a national leader in milk quality. We have healthy, happy cows because our producers take great care of their animals. The dairy industry does not tolerate animal abuse.”

Kircher concludes with one final message, saying, “There is an obvious need to educate more people,” he says. “Agriculture has been doing these practices for generations and IP13 would strip away these practices. If that would happen, it would cause a food shortage, as IP13 would put farms out of business.”

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