BUFFALO, Ohio — Guernsey County cattleman Mike Davis’ cow-calf herd has dwindled from 60 to 25 head. And he’s not sure how much longer he can maintain that many, either.
His plea to members of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board at their listening session May 25 at the Mid-East Career and Technology Center was simple: Consider the costs/benefits of any standards levied on livestock producers, because it may force some to quit farming.
“It’s just plain hard work and it’s very low pay,” Davis told the board. “If laws become too prohibitive, it will be even more difficult.”
He asked the members to look around the room and note the ages of those present, saying it’s already tough to get started farming and new regulations would make it even harder — for both young and old.
“I’m using what I hear here tonight to make my decision whether or not to stay in farming.”
Like Davis, others in the crowd of about 100 made similar passionate comments, hoping to emphasize to board members the enormity of their task.
Ralph Coffman, a retired agricultural education teacher from Washington County, said there’s a problem when farmers are considered guilty until proven innocent, and farmers often feel like they’re being singled out because the majority of society don’t understand generally accepted farm practices.
“Remember who and what started this,” Coffman said, “HSUS and Wayne Pacelle.”
“Please consider the sound farm practices. Take your time,” he urged the 13-member board. “This is serious business.”
Coshocton County pork producer Wendell Waters also cautioned the board to avoid knee-jerk responses and quick solutions, saying major production changes will require a long-term view.
He asked the board to analyze what livestock producers are currently using as generally accepted management practices and see if there are actual reasons they need to be changed.
Like Coffman, Guernsey County’s Arthur Nichols said he was concerned because the animal welfare push has been elevated by animal rights and vegetarian groups like PeTA and the Humane Society of the United States.
“I don’t want the industry bullied while we’re trying to save it,” Nichols said. “Don’t be ramrodded by organizations that would counteract what we’ve already done.”
He also encouraged the board to consider including an appeals process.
Tuscarawas County dairy farmer Connie Finton supports the board’s efforts and said she “worked hard, probably harder than anything I’ve done politically, to get Issue 2 passed,” referring to the successful ballot initiative last November that created the constitutional amendment to form the board.
“It is important,” she said, “and what you’re doing, I believe, will mean the economic survival of our industry.”
“On our farm, cow comfort and cow safety are our No. 1 priorities,” she added, and asked the board to consider standards that are “simple and size neutral.”
In an educational presentation prior to the listening session, Henry Zerby, meat scientist at Ohio State University, cautioned against linking animal welfare too closely to food safety.
“There’s quite a bit of disconnect between food safety and changes in animal welfare,” he said, meaning changing animal handling or processing practices does not automatically translate into a safer food supply.
“It’s not a cause and effect.”
Perhaps cattleman Gary Cox voiced the main concern that all livestock producers have with the yet-to-be-determined standards: “What I want to know is what effect will this have on me?”
He, and everyone else, will have to wait to find out. The board hopes to release preliminary standards by fall.
By Susan Crowell