Now that the dust has settled, what does “the agreement” really do?

By Kyle Sharp

Gestation stalls, such as these, are to be phased out in Ohio under the agreement with the Humane Society of the United States. However, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board will make the ultimate decision regarding their fate.

Many in Ohio agriculture reacted with disbelief on June 30 when Ohio’s agricultural leadership announced an agreement had been reached with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) regarding farm animal welfare measures.
After passage of Issue 2 last year created the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board (OLCSB) and the subsequent effort by HSUS to gather signatures for their own ballot initiative began, the battle lines appeared to be drawn.

“The initial response was surprise from people, because a lot of people, including many in leadership positions, were under the impression we were going to move forward and succeed as we did with Issue 2,” said Dick Isler, Ohio Pork Producers Council (OPPC) executive vice president.

But early poll numbers showed the HSUS ballot initiative passing by more than 60%.

“We realized we had to come up with another plan,” Isler said. “If the HSUS initiative passed, then in six years there could be no laying hen cages or gestation stalls, and that really would have hurt a lot of producers.”

Facing an expensive, uphill battle with a tremendous amount of risk, the decision was made to negotiate with
HSUS when Governor Ted Strickland presented the opportunity. To review,
here are the major provisions of the agreement that relate to agriculture:

• Recommendations to the OLCSB to take action on issues related to downer cattle and humane euthanasia using language consistent with the proposed HSUS ballot initiative.
• Recommendations to the OLCSB to adopt the American Veal Association 2007 agreement to transition to group housing for veal calves by 2017.
• HSUS will issue a statement in support of the mission and purpose of the OLCSB and will engage and work with the Board. The agriculture community and HSUS will jointly fund independent research on best management practices in hog and egg production with specific focus on gestation crate and battery cage housing.
• Recommendation to the OLCSB for current hog producers to phase out the use of gestation stalls by Dec. 31, 2025. After Dec. 31, 2010, any new Ohio facilities must use alternative sow housing for sows confirmed pregnant. Sows may be housed in breeding/gestation stalls until they are confirmed pregnant.
• Recommendation to the OLCSB to adopt standards to instruct ODA to deny permits for new egg facilities that use battery cages. Ohio farms already using battery cage systems may expand or modify existing permits under this agreement.
So what does this all mean? What will the direct impact of the agreement with HSUS be? In short, it means nothing, at least in terms of 100% certainty. That’s because the ultimate decision to adopt any, all or none of the agreement’s recommendations lies with the OLCSB. And according to Ohio Agriculture Director Robert Boggs, OLCSB chair, the Board isn’t giving the agreement’s recommendations any special treatment.

“The Board is taking the recommendations as just that — recommendations, not demands,” Boggs said. “We’ve spent a good part of the process going around the state and asking for suggestions and recommendations from everybody, and we’ll add their (the agreement’s) recommendations to the list we have from the Veterinary Medical Association, from the quality assurance programs that many of the commodities have and from average citizens. They’ll be no better or worse than any of the other recommendations that come before us.”

Although Boggs said the agreement did have some impact.

“Speaking for myself, what the agreement did was to tone down the shrillness and the hostility out in the state concerning livestock care matters,” he said. “And so, as a result, once you can bring down the debate to one of substance and not one of emotion, I think it was very, very helpful.”

Had the agreement not been made and the HSUS initiative placed on the November ballot, the Board would have been under pressure to get standards established by Election Day. But even with that added pressure removed, the OLCSB members are not sitting idle. Things are moving along, and standards on how to handle downed animals, and proper methods of euthanasia, could be complete by September, Boggs said.

“I can say now from the drafts, that the euthanasia and downer animal standards that the Board will adopt will be much more thorough, much more comprehensive that what the agreement ever suggested to us,” he said. “The downer recommendation was one species, cows, in one location, processing plants. We’ll have downer standards for every species, no matter where they are. So, I think people will find there might be some correlation in some areas between the recommendations and our standards, but that our standards will be, most generally, more comprehensive.”

According to Boggs, the members of the Board don’t feel pressured to adopt any of the agreement’s recommendations.

“I don’t think we worry about that,” he said. “I think we worry about what the voters of the State of Ohio asked us to do, and that is to balance livestock care standards with what we call overriding state policies, such as food safety, local food production and biosecurity. And if we do our job the way we want to do it and how we think the people of Ohio want us to do it, we’ll let the chips fall where they might fall.”

Check back here next week for more on the impact of the agreement on specific sectors of the industry.

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