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:
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.
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.
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.
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).