REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — “Recommendations” will be bountiful when the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board considers its actions on veal standards Nov. 2, and debate could potentially carry into the next several meetings.
On Oct. 25, members of the veal subcommittee held their eighth meeting to discuss acceptable veal raising practices, ultimately deciding on a draft of amended policies to be recommended for the board’s adoption.
The draft defines basic terms, including veal: “A young bovine animal sold for slaughter at or under 750 pounds, and raised for the purpose of veal meat production.”
The recommendation includes three acceptable practices of confinement: Individual tether pens, in which the calf is tethered in its own pen; individual loose pens, in which the calf is enclosed on both sides the full length of the pen; and group pens, in which the calf may be started in an individual tethered pen or an individual loose pen, and after 10 weeks of age placed in groups of two or more.
The subcommittee, which advises the board on its findings related to veal, voted 5-2 in favor of ending tethering in 10 years, for calves beyond 10 weeks old.
Wayne Pacelle, CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, addressed progress on the agreement between his organization and Ohio’s commodity groups during a press conference Oct. 26 at the Statehouse.
Pacelle said group housing should still be the mandate by 2017, according to the recommendations his organization agreed upon in June, which came from the same decision by the American Veal Association. He would not accept 2020 as the date, or allowing calves to be tethered to 10 weeks.
“That is a deal breaker for us,” he said.
Tethering has been a central issue facing the subcommittee since its first meeting. Several of its members argue it is a necessary way to keep calves from harmfully sucking the navels of other animals, which could occur if penned as a group.
Members also expressed concern calves raised in a group are more likely to be exposed to other animals’ feces and bacteria, and require more feed and medical care — factors that increase cost and, in some cases, could jeopardize the animals’ well-being.
Perception vs. fact
Veal farmer Bob Cochrell, of Ohio’s Wayne County, urged the full board at its last meeting to be wary of letting perception drive the issue. Cochrell, who has emerged as one of the more outspoken subcommittee members, said veal producers on the committee have determined 80 percent of veal in Ohio comes from individual tether systems, for the purpose of production, as well as calf care.
“No farmer is ‘converting’ to the group pen system because they believe it is ‘better’ overall for their calves,” he said. “Anyone who proposes that the level of care is the same for a group as an individual is deceiving themselves.”
Among those to vote against the 10-year phase-out was Tim Amlaw, vice president of American Humane. In a separate motion, he voted to approve a seven-year phase-out (2017), which is the same timeframe recommended by the American Veal Association, and the agreement of recommendations written by the Humane Society of the United States and Ohio’s major farm groups.
Amlaw said he would be fine with individual loose pens, or group pens in which the animals are started on tethers for the first 10 weeks, then untethered. But he would not support tethering without an age limit.
“Calves pretty much have to turn around,” he said, to comply with American Humane Association standards.
“There are behaviors that we feel are conducive to good animal well-being,” he continued, including the animal’s ability to turn itself around.
But even if tethering is allowed for a period of time, it still will not satisfy the HSUS and Ohio agreement, said HSUS’ Ohio Spokeswoman Karen Minton.
“There is an inherent conflict in the recommendations that are coming from the subcommittee,” Minton said.
Although multiple subcommittee members maintain that tethering up to the 10th week is in the best interest of the animal — to prevent damaging sucking on other animals and fecal-to-face contact, Pacelle said the calves’ lives already are too short to be restrained for so long.
“The animals don’t need to be tethererd,” he said. “They should be able to move and exhibit normal behaviors.”
It’s questionable, though, what “normal” behavior is and how much is really a good thing.
A veterinarian on the subcommittee said normal behavior for some animals could include fighting to the death. Others, like Cochrell, are concerned “normal” could lead to animals defecating on each other and in places where water and feed is kept.
Committee members who voted in favor of the 10-year phase-out said it gives producers more time to adjust, and that their document as a whole allows producers to choose which acceptable practices of production they want to follow.
All of the recommendations will be considered by the 13-member board, which will make the final decision.