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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.