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REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board will close its first year of operations with its paper work in order, quite literally.
At the Dec. 7 meeting, the board introduced a new format of specie-specific standards that still includes the same basic rules, but in a combined document. Board members hope the new format will allow for consideration of more than one specie at a time, a potentially important process for standards that affect more than one specie.
A single document also helps those following the board’s often tedious work, and to understand the standards put forth.
Leah Dorman, a veterinarian with Ohio Farm Bureau Federation’s Center for Food and Animal Issues, said the document accomplishes several things.
“We think this will provide some consistency and avoid some redundancies and, more importantly, result in standards that are easier for the farmers to read, understand and comply with,” she said during the public comment session.
It is unclear whether the board will approve the document in its entirety, with one vote, or separate votes for separate parts.
It could be a while before specific standards are approved and sent through the law-making process, but the board continues to expand and amend the document, following ongoing specie subcommittee meetings and board member deliberations at each meeting.
At the most recent meeting, the board gave particular attention to swine facilities, and nonambulatory animal treatment and transportation.
The board is considering policy that would allow swine producers already in business, to essentially be “grandfathered” in, so current farmers could still “expand or modify current housing methods at the existing facility.”
The agreement reached between Ohio’s farm groups and The Humane Society of the United States called for a phase-out of all gestation crates by the end of 2025, excepting the continued use of stalls until a sow is confirmed pregnant. A grandfather clause for current producers was not included.
The board’s draft also allows use of individual stall housing after 2025, in special circumstances that “jeopardize the swine’s welfare.”
Chuck Wildman, a swine farmer and swine subcommittee member from southwestern Ohio, said there are reasons why producers need to be able to choose how they operate.
He cited two that apply to his own farm: a senior citizen who would not be safe in a large group pen of hogs, and a son with Down syndrome, who can feed sows in stalls, but could struggle in a large pen.
“ I need, as a father, choices with my production methods that can fit the personnel there,” he said.
Wildman supports the agreement and moving away from 100 percent stall confinement of swine, but wants appropriate time and resources to do it.
“I do support the concept of phasing away from 100 percent stall housing, but we really do need time,” he said.
HSUS’s Ohio director Karen Minton said her organization supports the work of the board and Ohio Department of Agriculture Chairman Robert Boggs, but cannot support the swine component.
“The current language that allows (continued) expansion does conflict and is something that we would oppose,” she said.
Her sentiments were echoed by a host of “concerned citizens” who reminded the board of the 500,000 signatures they gathered as members for the HSUS-sponsored Ohioans for Humane Farms ballot initiative, and their threat of pursuing the initiative again, if need be.
Several livestock representatives, including some who helped make the agreement with HSUS, also continued their support.
Jim Chakeres, of the poultry layer subcommittee, reminded the board “there were six other groups in that room” with HSUS, and coming to the same decision.
“Ohio’s agricultural community stands behind the agreement,” he said. “Make no mistake about that; we’re here today to tell you that.”
On the issue of nonambulatory animal standards — basically animals that cannot rise or walk — the board gave closer consideration to the term “distressed,” and terms like “humane” and “fear.”
Members are concerned how their definition and use of these terms could be construed, or misconstrued.
“If we don’t make a good shot at defining inappropriate (situations), someone will do it for us,” said dairy farmer and board member Leon Weaver.
Weaver and others agreed fear is exhibited in animals, even if nothing is done wrong. But, he said, it is “unacceptable to have animals that are fearful ‘because of conditions of mistreatment.’”
Boggs asked the board, “if you don’t define what humane is, how do you defend yourself” against what is inhumane.
The board will continue with regular subcommittee meetings, and will hold its first full meeting of 2011 on Jan. 4.