REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board will meet for the final time of the year on Dec. 7, where it will continue discussion of species-specific standards. And it will welcome at least one new guest in the crowd — the state’s next director of agriculture, Jim Zehringer.
The director-elect said he wants to become more acquainted with the board’s work, and is planning to attend the next two meetings.
For the last couple months, the board has deliberated acceptable ways to raise veal calves — primarily on the issue of whether to tether (tie them by their necks) or require housing that allows them to be grouped together, or turn around.
While recognizing arguments for both practices, current Ohio Agriculture Director Robert Boggs, who also is the board’s chairman, says a decision needs made.
At the Nov. 4 meeting, he said Ohio’s veal industry will hurt its own image and market, if it doesn’t decide on what it’s going to do.
“The veal industry itself is driving itself out of business,” he said.
Gaylord Barkman, one of the state’s top veal producers from Buckeye Veal, said he’s doing well with group housing and encourages that method. But other veal farmers have repeatedly argued the change will decrease the health of their calves, and become a significant financial barrier.
Some producers and board members say what is best for the animals and the agriculture industry is not always what the public perceives, particularly if those perceptions are based on what consumer activist organizations promote.
Everything at stake
If the wrong decision is made, “We could take every veal producer out of production in this state,” said Jeff Wuebker, a livestock producer and board member from Van Wert.
He’s concerned about the time frame for enacting a ban on tethering (2017), and whether Ohio would be outlawing a proven production practice other states may allow to continue.
“It will be tough for us to take away things from the veal industry and Ohio’s farmers that may not be taken away in other states,” he said.
Big-name organizations like American Veal Association and the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association, as well as the agreement reached between the Humane Society of the United States and Ohio’s farm groups all call for a phase-out of veal tethering by the close of 2017.
To not satisfy these groups — namely HSUS — could potentially trigger a ballot initiative. HSUS says it has the needed signatures, though they have not been confirmed by state officials.
Zehringer said he’s still learning about the agreement.
“The agreement was made by a previous administration and our priority is not out-of-state activists,” he said. “Our priority is ensuring that Ohio agriculture continues to being a viable economic driver for our state.”
The Kasich administration is about creating and maintaining jobs, he said, saying “we need agriculture to lead us out of this recession.”
Boggs reminded the board that, while it is not required to follow the agreement “lock, stock and barrel,” making significant changes will carry consequences.
“I believe that those groups who have the responsibility to advocate and to protect livestock in Ohio have all unanimously agreed to the recommendation that came before us,” he said.
“For us to say that we should totally ignore that and ignore the public, which expects us to lead the effort of getting standards into place here in Ohio, instead of just making them minimal or (status quo), I think it’s going to lead us to some problems. I think we’re going to lose credibility, I think we’re going to lose some effectiveness.”
Some board members, like dairy farmer Leon Weaver, feel changes in the industry are coming, whether it’s now or in a few years.
“The change is coming,” he said. “We can choose to wreck that change or we can choose to observe it.”
The board will potentially vote on its handling of disabled livestock document at the next meeting.
Although veal standards appear mostly complete, several board members have indicated they want to wait before approving them, to weigh other species standards before veal standards become final.