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Board reaches consensus on veal standards
The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board is past its final major hurdle in establishing the first comprehensive set of standards for animal care in Ohio.
Earlier this month, the board established standards for veal production, resolving for now the last of the controversial issues it was facing.
However, board member Tony Forshey said the group’s work isn’t done.
“This is going to be a living document for years to come,” he said.
The creation of veal standards represented the most challenging discussion the board has had to date. The Ohio Veterinary Medical Association, animal advocacy groups and a major Ohio veal producer had all urged the board to phase out the use of tethers and narrow stalls in veal production by 2017.
That timeline was consistent with a recommendation made by the American Veal Association as well as an animal care agreement reached between the Humane Society of the United States and Ohio farm organizations that prevented a ballot initiative in 2010.
However, a number of veal farmers said that converting to the new system would be cost prohibitive and not necessarily result in better animal care. The board attempted to seek middle ground and, in a 6-5 vote, it initially proposed allowing farmers to continue to use current stall systems for the first 10 weeks of a calf’s life.
That decision drew strong criticism from many individuals and organizations and raised the prospect that the Humane Society of the United States would relaunch its ballot initiative.
Impact of public comments
The board received more than 4,000 public comments mostly favoring "turnaround" housing.
Many of the veal producers who were opposed to the standards had also told the board that allowing calves to be kept in stalls for the first 10 weeks provided no benefit to them. That led the board to reinstate the requirement that all veal calves be kept in turnaround housing by 2017.
However, several board members were conflicted with the decision due to the potential impacts on veal production. It was also apparent that board struggled to balance the concerns of the public with the concerns of farmers.
“Truly, our exercise here has been democracy in action,” said board member Robert Cole responding to the widely varying perspectives he was asked to consider.
Board member Leon Weaver said the group’s work demonstrates a willingness of the farm community to openly work with the public to address concerns.
“I want to ask the public at large to embrace us in the same way,” he said.
Weaver also said it will be important for the board to monitor the effects of its rules, because if production is driven to states with weaker standards, neither farmers nor animals will have benefited.
“We can find the better good by working together,” he said.
Photo by Seth Teter