Note: To read about the standards discussed at this meeting, which were advanced for public comment, click here.
REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — Half of the state’s veal production could end by the close of 2017, according to a petition presented to the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board Feb. 22.
Bob Cochrell, a veal farmer from Ohio’s Wayne County and a member of the veal subcommittee, presented a petition signed by more than 30 veal farmers who say they “do not anticipate continuing to raise veal in the state of Ohio” after 2017, if the current draft of veal regulations is made a rule.
According to the petition, those who signed represent more than 23,000 head of veal marketed in Ohio each year. According to a Driscoll & Fleeter study, about 46,500 calves were raised for veal in 2009, with a total market value just under $29 million.
The controversy stems from actions last fall, when the board weighed conflicting recommendations on the use of calf confinement and tethering.
The veal subcommittee held at least eight meetings in 2010, ultimately deciding on a set of recommendations that allowed tethering of veal calves after 2017, for the calf’s first 10 weeks of age, to prevent cross suckling of other calves’ navels and to reduce manure and urine contamination, as well as calf mortality.
Those recommendations were presented to the board Nov. 2, alongside an “alternate” set of recommendations, compiled by staff at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The “alternate” plan included several alternate housing mandates, including additional spacing requirements and allowing enough space for calves of all ages to turn around, after the close of 2017.
The board did not vote on either recommendation during the November meeting, but adopted two “concepts” requiring veal calves under 10 weeks of age to be able to turn around, and to require veal calves 10 weeks and older to be housed in groups of at least two animals per pen, with enough space to turn themselves around.
The concepts essentially ban stall confinement and tethering as a production practices.
Ken and Betty McCullough of Mount Victory, Ohio, are among the farmers who signed the petition.
Ken has been raising veal for more than 30 years — long enough to see the group housing experiments of the 1980s — which he said were not successful.
He told Farm and Dairy the stall system makes economic sense, and also is best for the calves. He’s willing to look at new methods, but wants something that’s proven and keeps the farm going for his son’s generation.
“I don’t mind being tied down to do a good job, but I’m not going to have my hands tied behind me,” he said.
McCullough fears if tethering and stall confinement are not upheld in Ohio, the industry will move elsewhere.
“There’s other states that you could raise veal calves like this that’s no problem,” he said. “You can relocate, and that’s probably what would happen.”
Ohio Veal Association President Jim Johnston of Kidron, Ohio, also signed the petition.
“The way that they (opponents) want to stop us from raising calves is the way that we’ve been doing it for a very long time,” he said, adding, ” I think it’s better for the calf and it’s better for the producer.”
“(The signees) and myself would ask that you consider and discuss this unanimous recommendation at your next meeting,” Cochrell said at the livestock care board meeting.
The Humane Society of the United States and Ohio Veterinary Medical Association have both cast approval for the ODA’s “alternate” set of recommendations, which they said in November, is more in line with American Veal Association’s call for group housing after 2017.
However, a letter signed by AVA President Chip Lines-Burgess pledges full approval for what the veal subcommittee is recommending.
Lines-Burgess wrote: “On behalf of the American Veal Association, I write to express our support for the veal standards approved by the Ohio Veal Subcommittee after weeks of deliberative consideration. We do so because we believe they are based on science and proven best practices. …”
The letter encourages veal farmers to transition to group housing, but also cites the viability of both methods, including the need for intervention when group housing is used.
“While we estimate that 35 percent of veal calves now are raised in group settings, group housing systems present challenges in veal calf care and management that require continued innovation and refinement to ensure that the health and well-being of the calves are best maintained,” Lines-Burgess wrote.
The care board is scheduled to review its veal standards in rule form during its March 1 meeting. Veal was one of the first standards the board considered, but voting has mostly been tabled to this point.