To read about board action at this meeting, view our previous report.
REYNOLDSBURG — There was no shortage of public opinion at the most recent Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board meeting — and that has been true most of the year.
The Dec. 7 meeting was filled to near capacity, with farmers, consumers, attorneys, veterinarians, animal rights activists and concerned citizens.
Their messages have been just as diverse — everything from improving animal welfare and treatment and improving consumer confidence in Ohio foods, to abstaining from animal products and an all-out abolishment of animal use.
“You really put a burden on us in some ways because of the diversity,” said outgoing Ohio Agriculture Director Robert Boggs, who took a few moments to address those who attended Dec. 7.
He thanked the large public crowd for their comments, and said officials on the board ultimately have to come to a consensus about what they feel will be best for Ohio.
And many “thank yous” and “congratulations” were returned, as speakers took the floor one-by-one to present their own advice.
“The board has without question been put (through) a difficult task,” said The Humane Society of The United States’ Ohio director, Karen Minton.
She has attended most, if not all, of the regular board meetings, and many of the species subcommittee meetings. Her only objections to the board’s work have centered on decisions, or near-decisions, that differ from the agreement her organization formed with Ohio’s agriculture groups in late June.
And that was the case Dec. 7, as Minton publicly opposed creating a grandfather clause in the board’s swine standards, to allow existing stall-based facilities to expand or build similar stall-based facilities beyond 2025.
Linda Davis, a volunteer with Ohioans for Humane Farms who represented her own views, held up a picture she had taken of an Issue 2 sign — the campaign in the fall of 2009 to form the care board. The sign promised “excellent animal care,” which she challenged the board to uphold.
“If what they (consumers) saw talked about ‘excellent’ animal care, I think it’s safe to say their intent was to have ‘excellent’ animal care,” she said.
But what is “excellent animal care?
Davis called for it more than a half-dozen times, so Farm and Dairy asked her during a break in the meeting, and how the board or farmers can be “excellent.”
“Excellent care for me would be different than the average American,” she said, “because I’m the extreme in terms of animal care. But I think at a minimum it would be to allow for any animal to move freely and not to be pumped with antibiotics … to get them larger faster and to get them on the plate sooner.”
Davis said she does not feel the board is working toward “excellent animal care,” even if it does adopt the provisions of the agreement.
“It’s a very good start, but does it meet the excellent category? No,” she said. “This agreement would not in itself get us to ‘excellent animal care.’”
Several in the audience said they were interested in “excellent care” and some farmers said they’ve lived by it, for generations. They just want “excellent” and “humane” to be something that is obtainable, good for their animals and affordable.
Doug Heacock, a sixth-generation swine farmer from Ohio’s Morrow County, talked about how his family has given “excellent” care since the time they raised hogs in a woodlot, and had to carry straw long distances for bedding.
“I think that as our technology evolves, we always have that common theme to take care of the animal as well as we can and give them excellent care,” he said.
Some producers have argued they need the choice of stalls, partly because it makes it safer to work with the hogs, especially depending on the hog’s temperament of the hog and the personnel the farmers have.
Several supporters of the HSUS-sponsored Ohioans For Humane Farms spoke about the work they did this year to gather 500,000 signatures to put a measure on the ballot, mandating certain minimum standards to the board. The measure was halted in late June by the agreement.
Elinor Israel, of Akron, said she spent diligent time “educating Ohio citizens about the conditions in which Ohio farm animals exist, and obtaining their signatures to help improve those conditions.”
She said her 3,000 signatures made her one of the top gatherers in the state, and she’s prepared to get more, if the board doesn’t enact the terms in the agreement.
“I also want to guarantee you that if need be, I am fully prepared to go back and gather more signatures, should you decide not to live up to your commitment,” she said.
Technically, the board was not part of the agreement, and is fielding it as one of many recommendations. But the parties — Ohio’s farm groups and the nation’s largest animal protection organization — make it unique.
“No matter what side of the issue you are on, Ohioans aren’t looking to further the current status quo,” said Khristina Martin, a concerned citizen from Cincinnati. “A desire for change is reflected not only by consumers but the groups that made the agreement.”