REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — In a small city east of Columbus, 13 appointed Ohioans from various farm and nonfarm backgrounds are working to set standards for the care of livestock in their state.
They’ve been meeting here the past few months, on the grounds of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, where they listen to presentations and public comments, and shape drafts of policy to determine what is acceptable and unacceptable care for farm animals.
There was some anticipation a vote would take place at the most recent meeting, held Sept. 7. It would have been the first official step in making the standards on euthanasia a law, a process that ultimately includes a public comment period, followed by a review by Ohio’s Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.
But some ongoing deliberations and concern over some of the language has postponed a vote until the board’s October meeting. This also will allow for the public to share further opinions during a public comment session to be held Sept. 21 at the Farm Science Review in London.
The process could take about 90 days after the board’s vote, to clear all the legal steps and pass through the JCAR. But a few organizations are saying they want action now.
Days before the Labor Day holiday, a vegan animal rights organization held multiple press conferences in Cleveland and Columbus, and Seattle and Los Angeles, calling upon the board to take “swift and decisive action” against chaining calves in veal crates.
The release of an undercover video one of its investigators took in mid-April at Buckeye Veal in Ohio’s Wayne County, spliced with undercover footage it took during the same month at Conklin Dairy Farm in Union County, and footage of alleged cruelty from the Willet Dairy in New York, released in January.
Buckeye Veal appeared to break no laws, and reports it is nearly 85 percent complete in its transfer from stalls to group pens. Still, MFA is showing the video as proof for what it says is cruel confinement of calves.
“With the support of leaders in the Ohio farming, veterinary, business, and humane communities to do away with this egregious form of animal abuse, there is no reason why the Livestock Board cannot take, and has not taken, swift and decisive action to do away with this cruel practice,” MFA said in their announcement to the press.
MFA accused the board of “dragging its feet on this important matter. Common sense and public opinion are in agreement that veal creates cause unacceptable suffering to animals and should be immediately phased out.”
Although a vote has not yet occurred, members have spent multiple hours in deliberation, seeking and reviewing information, and trying to determine the best language for Ohio’s standards.
Doing away with a particular practice, like tethering of veal calves, could have unforseen consequences. For example, State Veterinarian Tony Forshey noted on Sept. 7 that unseparated calves can act on their suckling instincts, and cause sucking wounds on other cattle.
“These animals, at too early an age, they still have that navel suckling response,” he said, which can result in navel abscess.
He said the board will take a further look at this, and the different ways veal are fed, during a veal committee meeting on Sept. 9.
One suggestion, he said, is to allow a type of stall system for calves up to a certain age, which would prevent the harmful suckling and still promote group housing, once the calves were suited for this type of pen.
Board member Leon Weaver, a dairy farmer from Montpelier, Ohio, said if there’s evidence to show calves are better off in group pens instead of crates, and if there’s no production or calf health issues, then group housing makes sense.
He pointed to a recommendation by the American Veal Association, to phase out crates by 2017.
“If the veal calf association themselves have decided that it’s not sustainable, I think we need to listen to them,” he said.
The board and its veal subcommittee continue to review phase out options, including dates for phase outs, and whether farmers should be permitted to use tethering as an option.
Several members noted there are benefits to both perspectives, including the well being of the animals involved.
“There really is substantiating evidence on both sides,” Forshey said.
The board plans to hold the September listening session the first day of the Farm Science Review, Sept. 21, at the Tobin Building, 135 state Route 38 NE, London, Ohio. The public session is slated for 1:30-3:30 p.m.