New livestock rules don’t address all the issues

By Carol Goland, OEFFA Executive Director

Appeared in the Columbus Dispatch 9/24/11

There has been much recent media attention focused on the “sweeping” new Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board regulations affecting farm animals (“All sides hail new livestock-care rules,” Dispatch, Aug. 29).

With all sides declaring victory, Ohioans may think all the problems of industrial agriculture have been resolved. Unfortunately, as usual, the devil is in the details.

The new standards do require some significant changes, including banning tail-docking in dairy cattle and prohibiting veal-calf tethering, except under very limited circumstances. And, thanks to the commitment of the board and the Ohio Department of Agriculture to welcome all sides to the table, the new standards protect the interests of small-scale, organic and sustainable farmers.

These are important achievements, which required stakeholders with divergent viewpoints to find common ground on polarizing issues.

However, the standards do not address numerous issues at the heart of many consumer concerns with today’s animal agriculture industry.

The routine use of antibiotics and indoor confinement are examples of standard practices associated with industrial agriculture not addressed by the new standards. These practices will remain commonplace.

Additionally, some of the reforms in the standards have been mischaracterized or overstated by the media and by proponents.

The Dispatch reported that veal crates would be eliminated in 2018. However, individual pens still may be used for the first 10 weeks of life.

Since bob veal are generally marketed at 3 weeks of age, calves may still spend most, if not all, of their lives in individual pens.

And, although animal-welfare representatives claim the regulations “prohibit new egg operations from confining laying hens in cages” and place a “moratorium on the construction of new battery-cage facilities,” the standards grandfather in existing poultry farms in perpetuity, allowing them to expand the use of conventional battery-cage systems.

For new facilities, cages still are permitted, but they must be “enriched” with some feature, such as a perch. In either case, these cages must provide only 67 square inches per bird, two-thirds the size of a standard sheet of notebook paper.

Although the new standards help establish a minimum bar for the treatment of livestock, Ohioans who want confinement-free meat, dairy and eggs still must seek them out from alternative sources.

Those options are available. Certified organic products require farmers to emphasize preventive health care and accommodate an animal’s natural nutritional and behavioral requirements, which include documented, inspected access to pasture for a minimum of 120 days a year.

Select restaurants and grocery stores offer organic and pasture-raised products. Consumers also may shop at farmers’ markets and other direct-market outlets, allowing them to get to know the farmers who raise their food.