Remember the two-headed, llama-like pushmi-pullyu creature from the fictional story of Dr. Dolittle? One head could sleep while the other head stayed alert, so it was awake at all times and on guard against danger.
Bob Cochrell has learned a few tricks from the pushmi-pullyu.
He has plenty to keep him busy on his Wayne County farm near Burbank, but he’s made several trips to testify to the New Jersey General Assembly in the past nine months and has spent countless dollars on long-distance calls to state lawmakers there.
Cochrell, a veal producer, is convinced a proposed bill in that state will have ramifications for farmers everywhere. He’s staying alert, while the rest of agriculture is sleeping.
About the bill. New Jersey state legislators are considering a bill that would prohibit veal calves from being tethered in individual stalls, among other veal production management practices. Ironically, there are no veal producers in New Jersey.
The state senate approved the bill Jan. 23 on a 22-4 vote, with 14 abstentions; the assembly side could vote as early as Monday, Feb. 10, even though the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee refused to hear the bill, so the sponsor pushed the bill to the Environment and Solid Waste committee.
The political soap opera-like web gets even more tangled when you consider that the New Jersey Department of Agriculture is set to release its draft standards for farm animal production, standards that would be open to public comment. This bill circumvents that public process.
Cochrell, a recent past president of the American Veal Association, is hoping farmers everywhere will express their objections to New Jersey lawmakers.
“Wake up, Ohio and Pennsylvania, because it’s coming,” says Cochrell of the New Jersey animal welfare effort pushed by the group Farm Sanctuary.
Easy mark. Cochrell says the veal industry is an easy target because of the perception that veal calves are raised inhumanely.
“They have no comprehension as to what we do in our animals’ best interests and in our best interests,” said Cochrell, who raises some 1,250 veal calves each year.
“If they (calves) don’t thrive, it’s not sustainable.”
The perception of “cruelty” in raising of calves in individual pens is hard to overcome, Cochrell admitted, and production opponents point to Europe where a ban on stall-raised veal takes effect next year.
“But I’ve been to France where they’re seeing two times the morbidity and sickness in group-raised veal,” he said.
Cochrell is frustrated that well-meaning lawmakers concerned about humane treatment for calves are actually calling for animal husbandry and nutrition practices that independent university research has shown to be detrimental to calf health.
“It goes to the core of objective, scientific research and information vs. perceptions,” he said.
He’s hoping all farmers will step up to the plate to address misperceptions, instead of leaving it to someone else to handle.
“It’s a matter of taking responsibility for the products they produce,” Cochrell said.
He’d like to see anyone interested in this issue contact New Jersey Assembly members to express their views on this bill, A-1948.
The General Assembly Majority Office can be reached at P.O. Box 098, Trenton, NJ 08625; 609-292-7065; fax, 609-292-2386.
Gov. James McGreevey, who would hold veto power should the measure pass both chambers, can be contacted at: www.state.nj.us/governor/govmail.htm, or P.O. Box 001, Trenton, NJ 08625; 609-292-6000.