Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board: I’d like a look at Option Three, please

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By CHARLES WILDMAN

The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board is faced with an interesting challenge in the coming weeks. Let me attempt to describe it simply, so that the challenge can be seen clearly. I see all things through the lens of a pork producer, but I think the situation is the same for other species.

The question before the board is, “What do we do about the ‘Ohio agreement’ with HSUS?”

There are, at present, two options to chose from. Neither, appears particularly beneficial when a person stops and thinks about it.

Option 1

The board upholds the agreement, as written, and thereby ends the use of gestation stalls as a singular housing strategy by 2025 in Ohio.

The offshoot of this is that sows will have to spend some part of their time in group housing environments. While there are managers and systems that can do a fine job in this environment, not everyone can do it 100 percent of the time. It is inevitable that when sows are housed together, they will fight to establish a social order and in this fighting, some are going to get chewed up pretty good.

It is also inevitable that pictures of these sows will find their way into the media. These pictures could be used to discredit the Livestock Care Standards Board.

I can hear it now. The voice-over audio accompanying video of two sows in a death match fight says, “This is what the care standards board approves as humane treatment of animals…”.

This is not a good option from the board’s perspective, in my opinion.

Option 2

The board disapproves/ignores the “Ohio Agreement” and thereby allows the use of gestation stalls as a singular housing method in the state of Ohio.

HSUS has made it very clear this option will be met with an all-out assault on the state’s producers through a ballot initiative. This campaign would feature every ugly thing that can be put on display and do tremendous harm to the reputation and stability of the farming community well beyond the borders of Ohio.

The board would be painted as a bunch of industry hacks and a sham and be discredited in the eyes of the voters who gave it authority to deal with their concerns.

It seems to me, this is not a good option from the board’s perspective.

Option 3?

It is obvious a third option is needed. A course of action that brings something new to the table that is a stretch for both the farmer and the critic. A course of action that reaches to the consumer to address his concerns in a credible and obvious way.

A course of action that allows the board to address the issue in a way that there is hope for it to be resolved in the future, over time, not just to continue as a point of contention into the future.

What might this option look like? How can the consumer be reached in a new way? What things are out there that stretch the producer and the critic, but add value to the consumer?

Out of comfort zone

I am aware, as a producer, of a couple things that could be done — things I am a little uncomfortable with for various reasons, but that might be of interest to the consumer who wants more transparency and information on where food comes from and how animals are being cared for.

For example: I give farm tours from time to time. These allow people to see what is happening and to experience it, but I can’t completely control the impression that is made.

In all things, the consumer and his needs must be brought front and center.

The same for news stories and interviews.

Both stretch my comfort zone, much like my wife cleaning the house before the guests arrive. There is nothing to hide, but some things don’t need to be seen. I can’t really control what the guests think when they leave.

I am aware that video monitoring technology is available (www.realpigfarm.com/ is one example). American Humane has a more advanced system I am told. Could this technology be used to “open the doors” on my operation to the consumer?

‘Consumer’ audit

Along the “farm tour” line of thought, could groups of random consumers (a jury pool type deal) be given access to farms to fill out audit questionnaires and then that data be compiled to guide and direct the industry and enforcement actions.

Questions to the pool might be of the type, “Rate your perception of the condition of the animals at this farm,” “Does the farm operator appear to be providing for the needs of the animals,” “Is the farmer making reasonable tradeoffs to advance the animal’s well being?”, etc.

These audit results would then be used to develop a score card that farms could use for comparison and to make adjustments to increase future scores and to defend themselves from accusations.

Part of the “Ohio Agreement” discusses joint research. Could developing this audit questionnaire and the data baseline be part of this research? Maybe this random consumer group would follow up on complaints with ODA and provide another set of eyes and ears to the process.

These suggestions stretch my comfort level and are way beyond my ability to design, but they would provide the consumer with greater access to his food and its care.

The critic would be tested because the consumer might just conclude that the farmer is generally doing a stellar job and is deserving of continued support and appreciation. This would hurt the business of being a critic but should critics have a full-time job?

My point in all this discussion is that there has to be an “Option 3″. Somewhere, there is knowledge and understanding that can be brought to bear on this challenge for the care board that will be beneficial.

The board needs to be able to chose an option that is a “good” option. Right now, I only see two “bad” options being discussed.

In all things, the consumer and his needs must be brought front and center, since without a happy and comfortable consumer, things are going to keep getting worse.

(The author raises pigs, corn and soybeans in southwestern Ohio. His four children represent the seventh generation on the farm. This commentary was originally published Nov. 10 in his blog, “Acorns for Thought.” It is reprinted here with his permission.)

3 Comments

  1. Mary N says:

    Tough issues. As a consumer who believes in animal welfare, not animal rights, and as an Ohio resident here is what I would like to see happen.
    1. Undo the agreement with HSUS that holds us all hostage. Holding the ballot initiative over our heads is blackmail, pure and simple. NOTHING the board and farmers do will be ‘enough’ for the HSUS, for the ultimate goal is to abolish all use of animals. So this agreement would only lead to farms going out of business eventually as they can’t keep up with HSUS demands.
    2. Massive public promotion is needed to show the good farming practices, the animals that are content, etc. Public forums for question and answers from the consumers would be good where they can ask about the best practices and get a professional explanation as to why that is a best practice. I fully understand how very nasty pigs can be. A farming friend’s child was attacked by a sow once. Most pigs are not ‘Babe’. The public needs to understand that and pictures of the effects of sows fighting and piglets crushed might be a good way to illustrate. The pictures of course cannot be staged. Agricultural vets should also be brought into this to back up the concerns farmers will have to deal with if their best practices are removed.
    3. This is beyond your control perhaps, but I would like to see Ohio remove the ballot initiative altogether. Our legislators are supposed to be representing us. Generally people vote on things without doing research on the pros and cons of issues. They just pick yes of no and few realize the consequences. We have too many urbanites voting on something they know nothing about, making decisions that will affect every farmer in Ohio. Most rural people understand that farming isn’t always pretty, but that the farmers are actually working for the good of the animals under their care. City people are swayed by emotional pleas and pictures into thinking all animals were born to frolic in the sun and grass. Farm animals generally want food, water, shelter from harsh elements, and general comfort. They do not dream of things they have no knowledge of. Unless the public understands this, you will continue to have them at your gates with demands to free the cows and pigs.
    4. Farmers need to be more savvy. They need to install surveillance equipment so that THEY can monitor employees. They should review tapes to ensure that no harm is being done to the animals AND especially to make sure there are no animal rights employees planted to stage these videos. Farmers need to see what is going on in those barns when they are not there if they employ workers.

    I am so encouraged that Kasich was elected and seems to be making the right choices for the future.

  2. mbozz says:

    As a consumer, I want a safe and affordable food supply. I think farmers are adept at caring for their animals, and you’d have to be pretty stupid to implement confinement standards at your farm that would cause more death and injury to animals. That would drive the prices up for consumers, and they wouldn’t like that at all. I was outraged at the ‘deal’ brokered with the HSUS and think it should be tossed out. The HSUS does not represent me, and quite frankly, the Ohio Government involved in this debacle of an ‘agreement’ didn’t represent me either as a registered voter in the state. I do not want radical animal rights groups dictating to me what I can eat, wear, keep, care for, etc. We need to take a tough stance and hold the line when confronted with radical agendas.

  3. Lynne's Honey says:

    How about an option where HSUS is required to buy a farm and start raining hogs according to their proposed methods? It would need to be open to the public so they can visit freely and see how the HSUS methods work compared to the best practices in place at farms now.

    For those with a particularly mean streak in them, it might be required that those HSUS members actually eat the pork they are producing. To counter that, they can be offered something they would really enjoy, like participating in the slaughtering of the pigs.

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