SALEM, Ohio — Mixed emotions are being expressed about the announcement that Ohio farm groups had reached an agreement with the Humane Society of the United States regarding issues of animal welfare. The one common denominator among everyone was the surprise.
The negotiations were known to only a few before the June 30 announcement.
Dick Isler, executive vice president of the Ohio Pork Producers Council, considers the compromise a positive step for the pork industry.
“This agreement is something very livable. It allows the pork industry in Ohio to continue and it buys time to make changes in operations,” Isler said.
One difference between the agreement and the now defunct ballot initiative is the timelines involved.
He said if the ballot initiative would have passed, the industry would have had six years to stop using gestational crates. Under the compromise, pork producers have until the end of 2025 to make the animal housing changes necessary in existing barns.
Isler also pointed out the agreement allows for individual housing units for sows until they are confirmed pregnant. This will help prevent miscarriages and limit fighting among the animals, he said.
The announcement that HSUS will join Ohio agriculture groups and fund research studies on animal housing issues is also a step in the right direction, Isler said.
Keeps off ballot
Jim Chakeres, executive vice president of the Ohio Poultry Association, agreed the compromise is a good one because it avoid the ballot initiative this fall.
“I think, at the end of the day, this compromise was indeed good for poultry farmer because now there is certainty,” he said.
Gene Gregory, president and chief executive officer of the United Egg Producers, said from what he has read, the agreement is a good one for Ohio egg farmers.
“As I read it, Ohio egg farmers can use their existing barns and continue to produce eggs using the cages. There isn’t a timeline to phase them out,” Gregory said.
The agreement does stop new farms with battery cages from being constructed.
Will lose business. It’s that clause that concerns Tom Menke, a consultant for Iowa-based Hi-Q Egg Farm.
Menke is worried the new agreement actually may close the door on Hi-Q’s plans to build a modern, 6-million layer facility in Ohio’s Union County. The farm has pursued a permit for at least the past four years and has been issued a draft permit.
Now, it’s unsure if it will be able to locate to the state, a decision that could prevent 75 new jobs, $150 million annually in the sale of egg products, purchase of 6 million bushels of corn and many more millions in related economic activity.
Menke said the decision “sends the message that poultry farms are not welcome in Ohio. … HSUS definitely got their nose under the tent,” he said, expressing his fear over what precedent is being set.
Existing egg producers
Nevin Horst, a partner in Horst Brothers poultry farm in Ohio’s Wayne County, said the compromise is a better deal than the standards called for in the proposed ballot petition, which required replacing cages within six years.
“That would have been completely economically impossible here,” Horst said, adding because he’s an existing facility, he expects to be grandfathered into acceptance as a cage facility.
He said he “completely understands” how some farmers may be uneasy about the decision, but said it still makes good business sense, something it took some time for him to realize.
“When it comes down to business, you have to look at risk management,” he said, noting many banks and investors were unsure a few days ago about where it was all headed.
He hopes the agreement will “at least open the door back up” for growth and expansion.
The American Veal Association also released a statement on the Ohio animal welfare compromise.
The association had already decided as an organization to move the industry toward group housing and had set the date of 2017 as their deadline for members to stop using individual veal crate housing.
“In 2007, the AVA board of directors unanimously passed a resolution calling for all veal farmers to transition to group housing by 2017. Today, we estimate that 30 percent of veal calves are raised in group housing,” said AVA President Chip Lines-Burgess in a statement.
But Bob Cochrell, an Ohio veal producer, says he is disappointed with the compromise.
He said he feels farm negotiators went against voters’ wishes.
“One of the intended, or unintended, consequences of this supposed compromise will force the small family individual veal farmer to have two choices: One, to go out of business — and ethically, at this point, I personally can’t see making the transition — or, two, to chose to go with an integrated model where they feed calves that are not their own for a packer or feed company.
“I thought that’s what Issue 2 was put into place to avoid.”
Board members in dark
Bill Moody, a member of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, said he had no knowledge of the negotiations.
He said, however, the board is independent and will listen to anyone’s presentation and hear what they have to say.
But the pressure to just rubber stamp approval of the negotiated agreement’s recommendations is not OK with Moody.
“I feel the pressure to perform and conduct the board’s business, but we can’t be puppets. The board is not made up to be that way, to do things that way,” Moody said.
He added the board is going to do what the public asks for and that is listening to the science community, veterinarians and acting in the best interest of animals.
“I hope that’s what we are still about and still able to do — what we were set out to do,” Moody said.
Dominic Marchese, a member of the OLCSB from Trumbull County, said he was totally shocked by the announcement, however, he doesn’t feel pressure to have to accept the recommendations handed down.
His goal as a member of the board is to establish quality standards, and that’s the only pressure he is feeling.
“I don’t want painted in a corner, I just want to do what is best for farming families, that’s where my concern is,” Marchese said.
Not the end. Karen Minto, campaign manager for Ohioans for Humane Farms, said the group is quite pleased with the agreement. She added the group didn’t get everything it wanted in it, but that is part of a compromise.
“This is monumental for a state that has lagged in animal welfare issues,” Minto said.
She added this agreement is the beginning of discussions, not the end, and this is the pathway to working with the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.
Ag caved in
The Animal Agricultural Alliance, however, had some stern words concerning the compromise in a statement they released.
“Unfortunately, Ohio’s agricultural leadership has succumbed to pressures from the Humane Society of the United States, a national animal rights group that has effectively undermined the authority of the newly-established board by imposing restrictions that mandate the way that producers can care for their animals.”
Animal Agriculture Alliance, is a nonprofit organization and is comprised of a broad-based coalition of individual farmers, producer organizations, suppliers, packer-processors, private industry scientists, veterinarians and retailers.
Dialogue important. Meanwhile, the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association commended leaders for coming together to form an agreement.
“The OVMA hopes this agreement will serve as a blueprint for future dialogues and effective leadership on matters of animal care and well-being.”