Livestock board has difficult decisions ahead

Buckeye Farm News

After nearly a year of work, dozens of meetings and thousands of public comments, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board is close to completing Ohio’s initial standards for farm animal well-being.

Rules for livestock euthanasia and civil penalties for violations are already in place. And the board recently sought public comment on its standards for swine, poultry, sheep, dairy and beef cattle, goats and veal calves. It is also expected to issue its draft standards for horses, llamas and alpacas in the coming weeks.

Rules that govern general livestock care and the handling of disabled and distressed animals are awaiting final approval by the state’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.

Ohio Farm Bureau has been active throughout the process by extensively reviewing the standards and providing input to the board.

One of the board’s most challenging tasks will be to finalize standards for veal calves.

The board received recommendations for veal as part of an agreement brokered last June between farm organizations and the Humane Society of the United States. To prevent a costly ballot campaign, Ohio farm groups agreed to recommend that the board adopt the American Veal Association’s proposed transition to group housing by 2017.While the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association and at least one major Ohio veal producer supported that transition, a number of other veal producers have argued in favor of caring for calves by utilizing individual stalls or tethers.

Ohio Farm Bureau had suggested that the board could achieve the transition to group housing by allowing farmers to utilize the stalls or tethers until calves reach 10 weeks of age.  After that, calves would be required to be raised in loose pens that provided enough room for the animals to turn around.

Following a strenuous discussion, the board voted 6-5 in favor of standards that would phase out the current practice of tethering veal calves by 2017. However, farmers could still utilize the individual stalls until calves are 10 weeks old.The Humane Society of the United States sharply criticized that proposal and said it would consider relaunching its ballot campaign.

The board is expected to consider public comments and reopen discussion on the issue at its April 5 meeting. Dr. Leah Dorman, OFBF director of food programs, said board members are not taking their decisions lightly.

“These are people who have volunteered their time to do a public service and at times it seems they are getting slammed from every direction,” she said.  “The board is trying to achieve balance, so nobody is walking away completely happy.”

Dorman said a unique aspect of the board is that no decision is ever final, because the process is ongoing.  The board is required by law to meet a minimum of three times a year to review standards.

“As more information becomes available from research about new systems, these things are going to be constantly reviewed,” Dorman said. “We’re going to support the board in whatever they decide. We support this process even though we may or may not always like what comes out at the end. It’s going to be a work in progress.”

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