Category Archives: OEFFA Testimony, Comments, and Sign On Letters

Testimony on the proposed rescission of administrative rule 901-11-8-01 on dairy labeling

MacKenzie Bailey
Program Policy Coordinator
Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association
December 20, 2011

Ohio Department of Agriculture, Reynoldsburg, Ohio

Thank for the opportunity to present this testimony.

My name is MacKenzie Bailey, and I am the Policy Program Coordinator for the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA).

Our organization has taken a leading role in promoting and supporting sustainable agriculture and family farmers in Ohio for over thirty years, and has operated an organic certification program for nearly as long.  Our membership of almost 3,000 includes farmers, including many dairy farmers, consumers, retailers, researchers, educators, and others.

I am here today to express our strong approval for the rescission of Rule Number 901:11-8-01.  We thank the Ohio Department of Agriculture for reconsidering this rule.  When first introduced, it explained that the intent behind the rule was to reduce consumer confusion.  However, the labeling rule does not accomplish this purported aim, in practice it limits the information consumers have about dairy products and makes it more difficult for them to identify and purchase milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt, and other items produced without the use of genetically engineered bovine growth hormone (rbGH).  Moreover, the U.S. Court of Appeals found little support for the contention that any consumer confusion regarding the use of artificial growth hormones arises from the labels themselves.

According to a Food & Water Watch poll, an overwhelming majority of Americans support “rbGH-free” labeling: 8 in 10 adults believe that milk that originates from cows that have NOT been treated with rBGH ought to be allowed to have an “rbGH-free” label.  Ohio consumers echo these national trends quite clearly: they are informed about the use of genetically engineered bovine growth hormones, and want information on labels in order to be able to make informed decisions in purchasing dairy products.  In the specific case of the proposed dairy labeling rule, during the comment period when it was first proposed, fewer than 70 out of 2,700 letters sent to the ODA supported it.

Consistent with the FDA Interim Guidance, the Court emphatically ruled that labels such as “rbGH-free,” “rbST-free,” and “artificial hormone free” are to be allowed.  We enthusiastically support this for a variety of reasons, chief among them is that this will bring Ohio’s labeling rule in greater alignment with the rules in other states, provide consumers with the information they seek about dairy products in a clear and unambiguous way, and protect dairy farmers and processors right to communicate truthful information about their products.  We thus urge you to proceed swiftly with rescission of the proposed rule.

The Court has also acknowledged compositional differences between milk from cows treated with rbGH and those that have not been treated.  The Court identifies three such differences, related to elevated levels of IGF-1, nutritional components, and somatic cell counts.  These scientific findings were either ignored or minimized by the FDA 16 years ago; the Court’s affirmation of them is significant.

The State of Ohio has repeatedly affirmed that its interest in changing the dairy labeling rules was to eliminate false and misleading information, and this was one reason that the dairy labeling rule required the inclusion of the statement “The FDA has found no significant difference between cows treated with artificial growth hormones and those not treated.”  Given the acknowledgement by a Federal Court that there exists compositional differences in milk, we fully support rescission of this rule, thereby eliminating the requirement to include this so-called “FDA disclaimer.” To continue to require this statement would be contrary to the state’s interest in reducing false and misleading information.

For these reasons, we fully support quick and complete rescission of the dairy labeling rule.  Doing so will:

  • Be in keeping with the Court’s finding that “rbGH-free” or equivalent claims must be permitted.
  • Remove the requirement that the misleading disclaimer “The FDA has found no significant differences between milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones and milk from untreated cows” appear on all labels making the rbGH-free claim.
  • Provide consumers the information they seek in purchasing dairy products and protect farmers and processors right to communicate important information about those products.

On behalf of the 3,000 members of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, including farmers and conscientious eaters, we congratulate and support the Ohio Department of Agriculture in its decision to rescind Administrative Rule Number 901:11-8-01, a burdensome and unnecessary dairy product labeling rule.

Ohio’s Sustainable Agriculture Community Weighs in on Farm Bill

November 14, 2011

The Honorable Rob Portman
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Portman:

We the undersigned eight farm and food organizations from Ohio are writing to urge you, as a member of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, to take a leadership role by modifying the farm bill proposal you will receive very soon from the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.  Enough has surfaced about that package to believe that while it certainly has some important positive features, it remains seriously flawed and poor public policy in several fundamental ways.  We implore you to help set it right.

As you know, the farm bill normally is a year or year and a half long process fashioned through extensive hearings, markups, and floor consideration.  Due to the unique process being used this year to potentially pre-empt normal consideration of the bill in 2012, your current consideration of the farm bill as a Joint Select Committee is the one and only opportunity to amend and revise the five-year farm bill proposal sent to you.  Thus it rests in the Joint Select Committee’s hands, and your collective hands alone, to rectify the major problems with the bill that will be sent to you for your consideration.

In our view, the farm bill – which is the primary federal policy mechanism to establish this country’s food policy and also plays a major role in the nation’s conservation policy and rural development efforts – is extremely important legislation that would benefit from more complete and more public consideration.  We recognize, however, that the major decisions on farm and food policy for the next five years must be set by you and the other eleven Joint Select Committee members in the course of just the next five days.  Hence we have joined together at this critical moment to provide you with our top recommendations for the needed fixes to the proposed farm bill, based on our best available information.

First, we urge you to amend the farm bill to place real caps on the amount of taxpayer-provided production subsidies any one farm can receive on an annual basis. Sadly, based on the best information we have, the bill being sent to you does not do that.  It leaves in place current loopholes that allow the nation’s largest farms to collect hundreds of thousands and in some cases even millions of dollars a year in subsidies.  The bill being sent to you does reportedly include an “adjusted gross income” eligibility measure that would prevent individuals with adjusted gross income of over $1 million ($2 million for married couples) from qualifying, but this measure, while supportable, is largely ineffective.  We need actual limits on actual payments and they need to apply to all program crops, without exception.  We urge you to include the language sent to the Joint Select Committee by Senators Grassley and Johnson.  Their proposal to set hard caps, with no loopholes, is good for family farmers, is good public policy, and saves real dollars that can be reinvested in local farm and food and beginning farmer programs.  Without the Grassley-Johnson language, there is no reform of the out-of-control subsidy system, period, regardless of any other bells and whistles the bill’s promoters may point to in an attempt to convince you and the public they have provided a measure of reform.

Second, we urge you to amend the farm bill to require all farms receiving commodity or crop insurance taxpayer-provided subsidies to comply with soil erosion and wetland protection requirements. Forcing the taxpayer to subsidize the destruction of the basis of our long-term food security – the soil — and the draining of ecologically-critical wetlands is indefensible.  Yet, according to our best information, the bill to be presented to you does not tie “conservation compliance” requirements to crop insurance nor does it apply conservation compliance to all of the land that is eroding at unsustainable rates within the commodity subsidy program.  Adding insult to injury, the bill presented to you reportedly also does not end commodity and crop insurance subsidies to those who would destroy native grasslands for the purpose of bringing them into crop production at public expense.  The so-called “sodsaver” protection should be added to the bill to ensure the taxpayer is not being forced to subsidize the destruction of our remaining native grasslands.  Adding “conservation compliance” and “sodsaver” to both the commodity and crop insurance titles of the farm bill is a simple, straightforward fix that will help protect the environment and our future food security.

Third, we urge you to include the important policies from the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act and the Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act which are not included in the bill that will be presented to you. We are thankful the leaders of the authorizing committees plan to include a few small pieces of these two important farm bill “marker” bills, but we cannot stress enough that this is the farm bill, our only chance in the next five years to enact reforms to support the next generation of American farmers and to foster job-creating local farm and food efforts.  There is real opportunity in agriculture today, and we believe it is possible to reverse the steady aging of American agriculture and also to create greater rural prosperity and improve access to healthy food, but only if we act with the smart policies incorporated in these two bills, introduced by Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Sherrod Brown, respectively.  Ohio agriculture would benefit enormously by the adoption of these two bills by the Joint Select Committee.  We therefore urge you to add these two critical bills to the farm bill section of your overall package.  Failure to act would mean no progress on these critical issues until the 2017 Farm Bill.  If we want to improve economic opportunity and job creation in the food and agricultural sector in Ohio and around the country, we cannot wait.   The task has fallen to you and we urge you to take up the charge.

Finally, we urge you to resist any attempts to increase the size of the proposed cuts to conservation and nutrition. Farm conservation support has been cut disproportionately relative to production subsidies.  We do not believe that is fair, and want to be sure the cuts are not deepened.  We also do not believe food assistance for low-income people should be cut and certainly should not be cut any more than proposed by the Agriculture Committee leaders.

Thank you for your careful consideration of our views.  We hope to be in direct dialogue with your office on these urgent matters in the next few days.

Sincerely,

Ohio Ecological Food & Farm Association (OEFFA)
MacKenzie Bailey
Policy Program Coordinator
Ohio Farmers Union
Roger Wise
President
Local Matters
Noreen Warnock
Director of Public Policy and Community Relations
Ohio Environmental Council
Joe Logan
Director of Agriculture
Rural Action
Tom Redfern
Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator
Slow Food Columbus
Bear Braumoeller
Chair, Chapter Board
Slow Food Cincinnati
Matt Anthony
President
EcoLakewood
Tom Bullock, Lakewood City Councilman
Co-Chair

Restoration of Funding for Vital Local and Sustainable Food Programs in Ohio’s 2012-2013 Budget

May 31, 2011

Dear Members of the Ohio Senate,

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) urges you to restore general revenue funding in the pending budget bill for the Office of Farmland Preservation and for the Ohio Proud program. OEFFA also requests that you restore funding for the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator and Farmers’ Markets Coordinator, positions that were eliminated earlier this year.

OEFFA is a nonprofit, grassroots coalition of 2,700 farmers, gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators and researchers. OEFFA works to promote local and organic food systems that bring prosperity to family farmers, help preserve farmland, and create economic opportunities for our rural communities. OEFFA also provides organic certification services for nearly 700 farms and processors.

General Revenue Fund appropriations for the Office of Farmland Preservation were $200,000 per year for both 2010 and 2011.  However, Am. Sub. HB 153 currently seeks to slash GRF funding for the office to $72,750 per year for 2012 and 2013. The Ohio Office of Farmland Preservation protects the state’s best and most productive farmlands from conversion to non-agricultural uses. Ohio is losing farmland at a much faster rate than other states. We rank second in the nation for prime agricultural lands converted to development, but only 31st in the nation for numeric population growth.  Please restore GRF funding for the Office of Farmland Preservation so Ohio can preserve and protect its agricultural heritage.

Please restore GRF funding for the Ohio Proud program. In 2010 and 2011, GRF funding for the Ohio Proud program was $196,895 per year. The pending budget bill slashes Ohio Proud GRF funding to $50,000 per year for both 2012 and 2013. The Ohio Proud program markets Ohio food and agriculture products to increase sales and create jobs for food processers, manufacturers, growers, and producers. As a result, every dollar spent on Ohio Proud is an investment in the state’s economy. Please support local farmers and food processors and Ohio’s rural economies by restoring Ohio Proud’s GRF funding.

Finally, two important positions were eliminated from the Department of Agriculture earlier this year: the Sustainable Agriculture Coordinator and the Farmers’ Markets Coordinator. We respectfully request that you restore funding for these positions, which are important for promoting local and sustainable food and farm products.

Sincerely,

Carol Goland, Ph.D.
Executive Director

Comments to the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board

Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board
8995 E. Main St.
Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068

January 28, 2011

Dear Director Zehringer and members of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on behalf of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) for your consideration at the meeting scheduled for Tuesday, February 1. Our comments pertain to the general considerations, swine, and poultry sections of the standards which the board will consider at this meeting.

General Considerations

While food safety and Salmonella reduction are vitally important, we would recommend the removal of the new language dealing with “Quality Assurance,” which reads “If food is produced for the human food chain, the responsible party must consider quality assurance” (901:12-3-03)(Management) with quality assurance defined as “steps taken to ensure safe, wholesome, and high quality products” (901:12-3-01)(Definitions). Although this language is relatively innocuous since it simply requires the responsible party to “consider” quality assurance, we believe this vague reference to quality assurance is out of place in a document designed to regulate humane animal care and that federal, state, and local food safety laws already exist, with more being developed, to regulate on-farm quality assurance.

Swine Standards

In section 901:12-8-02 (Management) (G) and (H), there is no mention of outdoor housing systems for post-weaning, breeding, gestating sows, or gilt housing. As a result, for example, if one reads section (G), “Post weaning housing system must meet the following conditions,” the two conditions are “In mechanically ventilated facilities…” and “Indoor systems that have no mechanical heating…,” leaving a producer with an outdoor system out of compliance with the standards, since they fall into neither category. Is this simply an omission, or is this saying that outdoor, pastured housing for these production stages is not permitted? In order to clarify, we would recommend changing (G) to read: “Post weaning indoor housing systems must meet the following conditions” and changing (H) to read: “Indoor breeding, gestating sow, and gilt housing must meet the following conditions.”

Layer, Broiler, and Turkey Standards

In sections 901:12-9-02, 901:12-10-02, and 901:12-11-02 (Feed and Water), language appears which allows water to be restricted based on “specific management practices, according to the farm’s operating procedures.” Does this imply that there must be documented, written protocols in place? A farmer may regularly restrict access to water at night, for example, but not have formal operating procedures. We would recommend removing the words, “according to the farm’s operating procedures.”

In sections 901:12-9-03, 901:12-10-02, and 901:12-11-02 (General Housing and Housing), we have concerns about the language that reads, “Must provide a clean and safe environment” (this language appears as, “clean, safe, and comfortable environment” in other species). All three terms are highly subjective and not defined within the document. What is clean or comfortable to one person, may not be to someone else. To give one example, if a fox or hawk predates a hen in an outdoor housing system, is that housing considered unsafe? Despite electrified poultry netting and shelter, birds are lost to predation from time to time, but these housing methods should not be considered “unsafe.” We believe that the issues of cleanliness, safety, and comfort are addressed more specifically elsewhere in the standards, that this sentence is therefore redundant, and that removing this language does not weaken the document.

In these same sections, we are also concerned about the language that reads, “Environmental moisture must be managed, whether birds are housed indoors or out of doors, to promote flock health and welfare.” Humidity and rain are natural phenomenon and cannot be controlled in outdoor systems. If the intent is to ensure that poultry are kept dry, we would recommend the language be changed to: “Housing and bedding moisture must be managed to promote flock health and welfare.”

Next, in sections 901:12-9-03, 901:12-10-03, and 901:12-11-03 (Management), we have concerns about the language that reads, “Environmental management must be designed to control parasite infestation, rodents, and non-beneficial insects.” We would recommend this language be changed to, “Environmental management must seek to minimize parasite infestation, rodents, and non-beneficial insects, as it applies to the flock’s housing system.” Parasite, rodent, and insect management are important, but the way these issues are controlled vary greatly by housing system. Some would argue that the best way to fully control these three issues is in a system without access to the outdoors. By adding the words, “as it applies to the flock’s housing system,” it is clear that all housing systems are acceptable and that within each system, steps should be taken to minimize these issues. Otherwise, one could argue that outdoor systems to not control exposure to insects, rodents, and parasites. Essentially, we want to avoid comparing one housing system to another.

Finally, although OEFFA’s primary goal throughout this process has been to represent the interests of small-scale, diversified, and organic producers and ensure that animal care standards protect and encourage all forms of animal agriculture in Ohio, we also represent consumers who are growing increasingly concerned about controversial confinement practices in animal agriculture.

In light of this, we have concerns about the house/barn averaging language which appears in section 901:12-9-03 (Conventional Battery Cage Systems), which reads, “For systems installed prior to the implementation date of these standards, house/barn averaging must result in a minimum average of 67 square inches per layer five years after the implementation date of these standards.”

The problem as we see it is that averages, of course, are mere statistical abstractions.  This means that an existing facility could expand its battery cage system after the implementation date and give 10,000 birds 89.33 square inches while doing nothing to address the space provided to another 10,000 birds at the same facility who may be occupying existing battery cages which provide them 44.67 square inches of space.  The house/barn would average 67 square inches per layer, but yet 10,000 birds would not be afforded the space requirements specified in the standards. Sixty seven square inches, itself, is only equivalent to two-thirds the size of a standard sheet of notebook paper.

We would also like to repeat our concern related to allowing existing farms continued expansion using current conventional caged housing systems. The rationale for this allowance is unclear, and this would result in a competitive disadvantage for new facilities, while paving the way for expansion of those “grandfathered” facilities. If “enriched cage systems” represent Ohio’s humane care of livestock, then giving permission for an unlimited expansion of those current systems which fall below this standard is not appropriate.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can provide more information, answer any questions, or if we can provide assistance in addressing these concerns.

Sincerely,

Renee Hunt, Program Director
41 Croswell Rd., Columbus, Ohio 43214
(614) 421-2022, renee@oeffa.org

OEFFA Comments to the Livestock Care Standards Board

October 4, 2010

Dear Director Boggs, Dr. Forshey, Livestock Care Standards Board, and Technical Research Advisory Committee members,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on behalf of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) for your consideration.

Our comments largely pertain to the draft veal standards document and the draft handling of disabled and distressed livestock document discussed by the Technical Research Advisory Committee (TRAC) on September 28. As these standards are still in early draft form, our comments at this point focus principally on big picture issues, not specific line-by-line language. We urge you to consider and act on the following:

Standard Operating Procedures (901:12-3-04 Veal Standards, 901:12-2-04 Disabled and Distressed Livestock Standards) and Emergency Action Plans (901:12-3-08 Veal Standards, 901:12-2-08 Disabled and Distressed Livestock Standards)

We do not support a requirement that all livestock producers, regardless of scale, produce written Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) and Emergency Action Plans. Although this may be appropriate, and in fact desirable, for larger commercial facilities that have multiple employees, this requirement would be impractical and burdensome for small-scale producers. Moreover, requiring this documentation is relatively meaningless unless there is a review and approval of these plans, which would be impractical for the ODA given the number of livestock farms in Ohio (unless the board decides to target only larger operations).

Additionally, 901:12-3-04 A1c calls for each farm to have a “training program that addresses animal welfare, signs of disease, routine and special care and handling, and euthanasia.” Again, requiring every livestock producer in the state, regardless of size, to offer a training program, regardless of whether they have employees, is impractical and burdensome.

Instead, the OLCSB should recommend that livestock producers have written SOPs and Emergency Actions Plans, as well as recommend training for farmers and hired personnel if they are not able to meet established standards.

Caretaker Training (901:12-3-04 Veal Standards, 901:12-2-04 Disabled and Distressed Livestock Standards)

We do not support required trainings for all livestock caretakers and transport personnel. By mandating training, these standards would assume farmers do not have these skills and create a potentially costly and time consuming process to train the thousands of livestock farmers in Ohio. The OLCSB will be establishing standards and allowable practices that must be met; it is up to the farmer to comply with those standards. The farmer can determine, after review of the standards and practices, whether they require training in order to be in compliance with the standards or whether they already have the skills to comply. If a farmer can comply with the standards competently, it should not matter whether they have attended a training.

Furthermore, it is unclear what is meant by “training.” Would completing a short online course or reading a fact sheet be considered training? What about learning from your father, an experienced neighbor, or through real-life experience? Would trainings be state-administered or would industry offer trainings? Requiring farmers to attend industry-led trainings is concerning, given the bias these trainings could have toward certain production practices, and farmers should not be required to participate in a certain industry group, if they choose not to.

Instead, the OLCSB should recommend training for farmers and hired personnel if they are not able to meet established standards.

Veal Standards

Veal Definition (901:12-3-02)—As currently written, the definition of veal is unclear, and could apply to both calves raised for veal and calves raised for beef. The definition should be clarified, so that beef producers are not subject to two sets of standards.

Disabled and Distressed Livestock Standards

Generally speaking, what appears absent in this document is an emphasis on prevention. There is currently no language in the document about responsibility of a livestock caretaker to understand why there are disabled and/or distressed animals on the farm, so that future problems can be minimized or avoided entirely.

Health (901:12-2-05)—Section 3 indicates that if an animal becomes non-ambulatory disabled, a veterinarian must be consulted. While this may well be an appropriate course of action, veterinary assistance should not be required. The farmer should also have the option of on-farm slaughter or euthanasia.

Subcommittees and Academic Research

As other subcommittees have begun to meet, we would also like to address the request from Dr. Forshey that subcommittee members provide peer-reviewed scientific articles to justify their production practices. Although we understand the rationale behind this request and recognize the merit of animal care standards based on science, we would like to draw your attention to the bias in the scientific research that is available. There simply is not the volume of scientific research on small-scale, diversified, and organic production systems that there is for industrial livestock production. Simply because research is not available, does not mean that small-scale, pasture-based, and diversified production systems lack merit.

Moreover, the role of the subcommittee members is to represent their production model and offer comment on the workability of any regulations, not to produce scientific evidence. In our mind, this is the important role that the TRAC can play in helping to inform the LCSB about the relative merits of different production practices.

In conclusion, any animal care standards need to protect alternative production, processing, and distribution models. Consumer demand is at an all-time high for grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, and pastured pork.  Small, diversified, and organic farms are meeting this demand while strengthening our local economies, increasing our food security, and protecting our vanishing farmland and rural traditions. Ohio needs to be creating a climate which encourages beginning farmers to raise livestock and provide viable pathways for the next generation of farmers to see a future in farming. We should not discourage new farmers by putting unnecessary and impractical obstacles in their way, and create a situation in which small-scale and diversified farming is not practical or profitable.

Sincerely,
Renee Hunt
Program Director

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a 31-year-old membership based organization of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers and others who share the desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to farmers, helps preserve farmland, offers food security for all Ohioans, and creates economic opportunities for our rural communities. OEFFA also offers organic certification.  We are one of 55 domestic USDA accredited certification agencies, all which certify to the same standard, the National Organic Program (NOP).

OEFFA Comments to the Livestock Care Standards Board

August 9, 2010

Dear Director Boggs and Livestock Care Standards Board committee members,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments on behalf of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) for your consideration.

Our comments largely pertain to the draft civil penalties document presented to the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board (OLCSB) on July 27 and the draft euthanasia standards (901:12-X) discussed by the Technical Research Advisory Committee (TRAC) on August 3 and to be considered by the LCSB on August 10. We urge you to consider and act on the following:

Euthanasia Training
The OLCSB should suggest and offer euthanasia training, but not mandate training and/or certification as a prerequisite for owning livestock in the state of Ohio. By mandating training, these standards would assume farmers do not have these skills and create a potentially costly and time consuming process to train the thousands of livestock farmers in Ohio.

The OLCSB will be establishing euthanasia standards and allowable practices that must be met; it is up to the farmer to comply with those standards. The farmer can determine, after review of the standards and practices, whether they require training in order to be in compliance with the standards or whether they already have the skills to comply. If a farmer can perform the acceptable euthanasia method effectively and appropriately, it should not matter if they have attended a training or not. In other words, the euthanasia standards should be result-based, not process-based. If a farmer is found to be not complying with the standards, then OEFFA would support required trainings, as well as any appropriate penalties, if warranted.

As an organization that has offered more than 30 years of educational events, we know how effective educational opportunities can be in creating positive change. Whether Extension offers trainings through its county offices, webinars are offered, or existing events are utilized to bring in appropriate personnel to hold trainings (such as the OEFFA’s annual conference, or summer workshop and farm tour series), there are effective and efficient ways to get out the information.

Civil Penalties

The burden of the penalty should be proportional to the size of the infraction and be scale-appropriate to act as a deterrent. The reality is that it is difficult to draft a civil penalty document that is one-size-fits all, given the range of livestock models practiced in Ohio. For example, a $100 penalty for an infraction would be a deterrent for small farmers, but may simply be a cost of doing business for a large laying operation that could more easily absorb the cost than invest in the farm’s infrastructure to comply with the regulations.

As the OLCSB discussed at the July 27 meeting, there is not clarity in the current draft document on how these penalties could stack up, or whether penalties would be assessed per animal or per facility.  If penalties are based per animal, then it could be inappropriately costly if there was a $1,000 assessment against a 350,000 bird facility.  However, if penalties are based per facility, a $1,000 assessment is relatively meaningless for a 350,000 bird facility, but extreme and disproportionate to the small farmer with 20 chickens.

In cases where a minor violation has been found and the livestock producer is actively willing to work to correct the problem, we would support modification to the language in the draft document that would give the department the flexibility to work with the producer to remediate the situation and/or to require education and training, in lieu of, or in addition to, monetary penalties.

Additionally, while it may be useful to have civil penalties to address any major violations of standards generated by this board, there is the potential that these types of acts will also fall under Chapter 959 of the Ohio Revised Codes.  Offering language to the effect that “Violators may also be subject to cruelty charges if applicable,” may also be productive to encourage compliance and clarify potential consequences.

Process

At the July 27 LCSB, board members discussed a tentative timeline for finalizing the euthanasia standards, which could involve a vote by the OLCSB on August 24 and a public hearing at the meeting on September 21.

We think that holding a public hearing on the euthanasia standards after the board votes is putting the cart before the horse. We acknowledge and appreciate that the OLCSB and TRAC both offer opportunities for the public to provide comment at each meeting throughout the process, but so far the substance for comments has been a moving target. Unless individuals attend meetings or specifically request draft documents from the board, the documents are not made available publicly, and the content of these documents changes frequently and dramatically. To truly gain substantive feedback from the public and livestock producers, the standards under consideration should be made public, then the board should hold a hearing, and finally, the board should vote whether to approve or modify the standards.

In conclusion, any animal care standards need to protect alternative production, processing, and distribution models. Consumer demand is at an all-time high for grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, and pastured pork.  Small, diversified, and organic farms are meeting this demand while strengthening our local economies, increasing our food security, and protecting our vanishing farmland and rural traditions. Ohio needs to be creating a climate which encourages beginning farmers to raise livestock and creates pathways for the next generation of farmers to see a future in farming and to take over the family farm. We should not discourage new farmers by putting unnecessary and impractical obstacles in their way, and create a situation in which small-scale and diversified farming is not practical or profitable.

Sincerely,

Renee Hunt

Program Director

About OEFFA

The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a 31-year-old membership based organization of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers and others who share the desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to farmers, helps preserve farmland, offers food security for all Ohioans, and creates economic opportunities for our rural communities. OEFFA also offers organic certification.  We are one of the 99 USDA accredited certification agencies, all which certify to the same standard, the National Organic Program (NOP).

OEFFA Comments to the Livestock Care Standards Board

28 May 2010

Dear Director Boggs and Livestock Care Standards Board committee members,

Thank you for the opportunity to submit comments for your consideration.  The Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA) is a 31-year-old membership based organization of farmers, backyard gardeners, consumers, retailers, educators, researchers and others who share the desire to build a healthy food system that brings prosperity to farmers, helps preserve farmland, offers food security for all Ohioans, and creates economic opportunities for our rural communities. OEFFA also offers organic certification.  We are one of the 99 USDA accredited certification agencies, all which certify to the same standard, the National Organic Program (NOP).

It is with great concern that these comments are submitted to this board.  We urge you to consider and act on the following:

  1. Unintended consequences for small farmers: The Livestock Care Standards Board (LCSB) was established as a pre-emptive strike against the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) ballot initiative, in which certain confinement practices found in large scale livestock operations would be banned.  The target never was small scale livestock farms or diversified farms, nor organic livestock production, which has its own set of humane practice standards.  OEFFA is concerned that attempts to avoid more restrictive regulations of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) (as promoted by HSUS) will have the unintended consequence of requiring additional paperwork, fees, and government intrusion on non-CAFO farms. Small, diversified, and organic farms are not just a niche or fringe market. They are small businesses, creating jobs, strengthening our local economies, and serving a growing consumer market for locally and sustainably-raised food. To let small farmers get caught up in the middle of what is really a battle between CAFOs and HSUS would be a reckless use of this board’s constitutional authority.  This will have a substantial negative impact on several fronts:
  • The livestock producer, who will see his or her costs unjustly increase due to time spent filling out forms, fees for any audit (a $500 annual audit fee is nothing to a 100,000 poultry confinement facility, but is a heavy burden to the farm that sells two dozen eggs a week), and inspector visits;
  • The Department of Agriculture, which will be saddled with the increased inspection demands and paperwork process (as a certifying agency offering a third party verification process, we appreciate what kind of demand this is);
  • The Ohio taxpayer, who will have to pay for the costs of maintaining this board and the auditing and enforcement expenses; and
  • The consumer, who will see less choice at the marketplace (as smaller producers decide to quit production) if procedures are put in place that are financially or otherwise too onerous. This is clearly not what voters thought they would be getting when they passed Issue 2 last fall.

Further, just as farms are of different sizes, they also have different practices.  There is no one right way to raise beef, for instance.  In an integrated farming system, how cattle are managed is much different than in a feedlot.  Standards that require a prescriptive use of drugs or a blanket method to house livestock would be overreaching and detrimental to the diversity of Ohio livestock agriculture.

Recommendation: Whatever direction the LCSB takes in establishing animal welfare standards, it is imperative that if it is necessary to have annual audits and to file paperwork with the State of Ohio, this effort should focus on certain sized operations.  Our suggestion is that any operation smaller than the threshold size for the EPA’s definition of a medium-sized CAFO be excluded from the requirement of an annual audit.  Instead, farms below this threshold size would be subject to inspection only when triggered by a complaint.

2.      A reasoned timeline to allow for good policy making: While it is admirable that board members have committed so much time to gathering public feedback and meeting to work out details to furnish initial standards and rules, OEFFA must point out that the timeline in which the board is working prohibits true participation by all those producers potentially affected by this board’s actions.  Indeed, with this timing, many of the livestock producers we talked to question the sincerity of the board, and in effect feel that going to a listening session to voice their concerns and offer feedback is a waste of time because of the fast track that this board has established.  Further, it is nearly impossible for most livestock farmers to find the time to serve on any Technical Advisory Committees (TACS) or subcommittees at this time of year.  Farmers who grow grain for their livestock are tending to their fields; diversified farms are working from sun up to sun down growing and harvesting their produce for their CSAs and to get to market.

The pressure to get something in place now is not coming from the public or the farmers themselves.  This is again a reaction to the HSUS ballot initiative.  The board is tasked with making very important decisions that will affect the livelihood of tens of thousands livestock producers, their families, and the consumers who count on them. This rule-making process should be thoughtful, deliberate, thorough, and respectful of the impacts it could have on these farmers, not rushed to serve a narrow political interest. In short, this is not the foundation for good policy making.  Insisting that this rule-making be completed in the next few months would prevent all but big operators, industry representatives, and academics who are paid to be there from participating. If the subcommittees fail to include the voices of small farmers, their recommendations to the board will present an incomplete picture of livestock farming and could set the board up to create regulations written by and for the big guys.

Recommendation: Slow down the process.  If the board truly wants input from the public and to have diverse representation on the subcommittees, especially from those who will be impacted by this board’s decisions, then it will hold off establishing any kind of regulations until there is adequate time for participation and input.  In addition to holding listening sessions at the beginning of the process—where participants are only able to make general comments and not respond to specific standards and procedures—the board should develop draft recommendations, gather public input, and then repeat this process (prior to review by JCARR).  Late fall through the winter offers ample opportunity for this work. In this way, the board can avoid any unintended impacts on farmers and ensure that these standards and regulations are thought through.

  1. Ensure a transparent process: Related to the previous point, a transparent process needs to be established in order to offer a fair and balanced process and instill confidence in the public.  Information about this board and its activities is currently not easily accessible and is not communicated to the public in a timely manner.  Note that the LCSB webpage itself only has the statement: “State Issue 2 was recently approved by Ohio voters, creating the 13-member Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board.”  Much has happened since then, but information on the board’s makeup, contact information for board and staff, as well as any meeting notes are not being made available at this time.

Recommendation: Allow public comment at the meetings, including subcommittee meetings, and provide an easy online form where members of the public can submit comment electronically. The board’s website should include meeting agendas and thorough minutes, meeting announcements, disclosures about finances, names, contact information and biographies for each board member, each subcommittee member and the LCSB staff, as well as other information which makes the board’s activities accessible to the public. In the future, the board should provide more advanced notice for meetings, ensuring that members of the public who want to attend have that opportunity.

  1. Consumers’ right to choose:  Regulations need to protect alternative production, processing, and distribution models and ensure that consumers continue to have a choice about how their food is produced. Consumer demand is at an all-time high for grass-fed beef, free-range poultry, and pastured pork.  For example, in 2009, while total U.S. food sales grew by only 1.6 percent, organic product sales grew by 5.1 percent.  Moreover, the organic meat sector is currently one of the fastest growing in the organic industry, with total retail sales increasing by a factor of 46 between 1997 and 2007.  We know that small farmers are especially likely to adopt organic practices as a way to improve farm income. Any regulation must not be inhibit them from raising livestock that supplies these growing markets.

Recommendation: The board needs to take special care that the regulations enacted do not squelch the growing local and alternative food movement by overburdening smaller operations or eliminating options to raise animals afforded access to the outdoors or with minimal use of synthetic inputs.  The board should strive to enact regulations which will be flexible enough to allow entrepreneurial producers to respond to market demand for local and sustainably-raised products, recognizing that these are often smaller producers for whom economies of scale are not achievable when it comes to regulatory burdens.

  1. Organic livestock production: Certified organic livestock producers already meet stringent standards for animal care that are designed to provide the conditions that prevent disease and illness by use of preventive measures, by fostering the natural behaviors of livestock, and by reducing stress on the animals.

The National Organic Program (NOP) standards specifically address livestock living conditions, which must accommodate the health and natural behavior of the animals.  Animals must be provided access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of production, the climate, and the environment.  Organic producers must report of the size of housing units and the number of animals housed in each, the types of bedding used, the frequency of cleaning and the products used, and how many hours each day the animals are indoors.

The National Organic Program standards specifically address livestock health care, which emphasizes preventive practices, including the selection of species with regards to their suitability for local conditions and resistance to disease.  In the face of illness, organic livestock health care relies on botanical treatments.  Only when these are inadequate are synthetic medications used, and then, only those that have been specifically approved for use in organic systems.

The National Organic Program standards specifically address physical alterations of livestock, and requires that physical alteration—which may only be done to promote the animal’s welfare—is done using procedures and materials that minimize pain and stress.

We are concerned that regulations and proof of compliance enacted by the LCSB may doubly-burden organic livestock producers, who are already subject to a comprehensive set of animal welfare standards that are verified through a rigorous  process annually.  Further, we are concerned about the expertise of existing ODA personnel to inspect organic farms, and the mechanisms in place to assure coordination with certifying agents.

Recommendation: Although the board’s implementing legislation provides some protection for farmers (if the board creates standards that directly conflict with the National Organic Program, the NOP standards prevail, as would be the case in any instance where federal and state law conflict), given the nature of the certified organic verification standards and process, we believe that certified organic livestock producers should be exempt from any regulations passed by the board.

In the event that the board’s regulations do apply to organic producers, and the board will be inspecting complaints waged against organic livestock producers, they will need inspectors with organic expertise.  This can be accomplished through state inspectors completing training and being qualified by the International Organic Inspectors Association.  Any complaint against an organic livestock producer also needs to be registered with the farm’s certifying agency; there is currently no provision to ensure coordination between the certifying agency and the board.

  1. Meaningful Reform: This board was created with the promise to provide safe, local food while at the same time assuring the public that current animal production practices in Ohio represent quality care.  If this premise prevails, then the board is likely to do little more than embark on a public relations campaign to “educate” the consumer about animal agriculture in Ohio.  But consumers who supported the passage of Issue 2 believe that the board will establish true animal welfare standards that improve upon existing practices, and not just be a body that acts as a rubber stamp for industry.

Recommendation: The board should not simply write standards to assure the public that current industry practices happening behind closed doors are acceptable, thereby legitimizing some factory farm practices which many consumers find questionable.  Consumers are asking important questions about how their food is grown and trying to make conscientious choices about what they feed their families.  The board should be mindful of their needs and move in the direction of more citizen control, more public input, more information, and more transparency about our food and farm system.

Finally, we commend Director Boggs for pledging to go to the Ohio Legislature to remove language in HB 414 which would allow the board to accept private donations.  This will instill a sense of confidence by the public, and avoid any potential of influence by outside interests.

OEFFA represents a myriad of types of livestock producers and systems—many on the small end of the scale.  In submitting these comments, we are working to protect the interests of the livestock farmers and consumers we represent.  OEFFA supports the humane treatment of farm animals. The livestock producers we speak for welcome consumers to visit their operations. They want their customers to understand how they raise their food, because they know with that connection, they will garner their customer base.

Sincerely,

Carol Goland

Executive Director