By Kyle Sharp
Standards of care for veal production approved by the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board (OLCSB) in April have been put on hold, at least temporarily, after intense questioning by members of Ohio’s Congressional Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) during a hearing on Monday, July 11. At the meeting, OLCSB and Ohio Department of Agriculture officials decided to pull the veal rules and re-file them at a later JCARR hearing after gathering and providing more supporting material.
“We have the chance to collect more information for the committee members, and our intent is to do that in the next couple of weeks and re-file at the Aug. 1 JCARR hearing,” said ODA spokesman Andy Ware. “The rules will be re-filed as submitted, and we are confident the committee will approve what we have submitted.”
Bob Cochrell, a Wayne County veal farmer and member of the OLCSB veal subcommittee, presented comments and information against the proposed standards at the hearing and does not believe JCARR will be so easily swayed.
“Unless it’s revisited and revised, I don’t know if they’ll accept it,” Cochrell said.
The current OLCSB standards would allow veal calves to be in individual pens up to 10 weeks of age after Dec. 31, 2017, as long as they were not tethered and are able to turn around. After Dec. 31, 2017, young animals must be moved to group pens by 10 weeks of age. Until the Dec. 31, 2017, date, calves can continue to be raised in individual stalls throughout their production period and either tethered or non-tethered.
At the hearing, OLCSB Executive Director Michael Bailey said the plan to phase out individual housing was based on a recommendation from the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Veal Association. An Ohio Farm Bureau Federation statement supported the rules as submitted by the OLCSB: “All views and perspectives were considered as part of the Board’s deliberations, and we support the Board and its decision.”
Cochrell, who is a past president of both the American Veal Association and Ohio Veal Association and has a 500-head veal farm, presented written and oral objections to the proposed veal housing standards using three of the four criteria considered by JCARR. His comments appeared to influence much of the line of questioning from JCARR members toward the ODA and OLCSB representatives at the July 11 hearing. First, he said the rules did not follow the eight factors to consider set forth in the OLCSB enabling legislation, thereby conflicting with the intent of the legislature. Those factors were the board should consider:
(1) Best management practices for the care and well-being of livestock; (2) Biosecurity; (3) The prevention of disease; (4) Animal morbidity and mortality data; (5) Food safety practices; (6) The protection of local, affordable food supplies for consumers; (7) Generally accepted veterinary medical practices, livestock practice standards, and ethical standards established by the American Veterinary Medical Association; (8) Any other factors that the board considers necessary for the proper care and well-being of livestock in this state.
The OLCSB Veal Subcommittee presented a unanimous recommendation to the OLCSB for veal housing standards based on those eight criteria on Nov. 2, Cochrell said, and the same day, ODA staff presented an “Alternate Recommendation” that mirrored recommendations agreed to in an earlier agreement between the Humane Society of the United States and Ohio agricultural leaders. Also on Nov. 2, the OLCSB chair said, “any further discussions on the Veal Standard would not include the Veal Subcommittee,” Cochrell wrote.
“It is my contention that the OLCSB has been dramatically influenced during their deliberations by outside, special interest groups that came to a closed door ‘Agreement’ on June 30, 2010, that coerced the OLCSB into following those recommendations,” Cochrell said in his written statement to JCARR.
“It was proven and accepted by the OLCSB numerous times that housing that requires veal calves to be able to turn around at all times and be placed in a group pen by 10 weeks of age will mean more calves will get sick, more calves will die and require more antibiotics,” so the proposed veal housing rules do not consider what is “necessary for the proper care and well-being of livestock in this state,” he wrote.
Second, Cochrell questioned the OLCSB’s statutory authority to set timelines for veal and other species in their standards. Primarily, he questioned the inconsistency of the dates set for the different livestock species.
“I must question the OLCSB’s statutory authority to determine these ‘deadlines,’” he wrote. “If they are granted this authority, their decision must be based on the objective criteria as established in the Enabling Legislation, not the subjective pressure of outside special interest groups.”
Finally, Cochrell questioned whether the rule-making agency had prepared a complete and accurate rule summary and fiscal analysis of the proposed rule. He said ODA’s fiscal analysis of the impact of the proposed rule on the Ohio veal industry “is incomplete at best and inaccurate at worst.” The ODA analysis only considered the capital expenditures needed to transition buildings to group pens by 2017.
“ODA’s analysis does not include cost of production of group pens: decreased capacity; increased medication, utilities and labor; higher mortality and morbidity; and no higher market price currently realized by veal farmers in Ohio to cover these additional costs,” Cochrell wrote.
With that in mind, Cochrell shared an affidavit with JCARR that he and 32 other Ohio veal producers signed, representing more than half of the veal production in Ohio, that said if the veal standards are passed as they are, they do not anticipate continuing to raise veal after Dec. 31, 2017.
“This wasn’t done right. Sooner or later, it’s got to be based on truth, rather than this coercion that everybody is caving to,” Cochrell said when contacted after the hearing. “There is going to be a war someday. The question is, how many casualties will there be and how much ground will we concede until agriculture is ready to stand and fight back?”
A pending Ohio governmental office designed to oversee the impact of regulations on the Ohio business community could have impacted the outcome of the July 11 JCARR hearing. A release distributed by Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor’s office on July 13 said the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) Office is gearing up to help agencies determine when they should back off proposed rules that might negatively impact businesses. In January, the office will have authority to analyze draft rules’ potential impacts on business, as outlined in legislation (Senate Bill 2) passed earlier this year.
“We don’t intend to be in the position where we’re telling agencies what to do. We would just like them to follow a process and make sure that they hear stakeholders and do the best that they can to address the concerns that we get,” said Taylor, who oversees the administration’s effort to streamline business regulations. While the CSI Office will only have authority to ask agencies to review rules that appear to have a negative impact on businesses, JCARR will be able to recommend the legislature invalidate regulations if it determines the agency failed to justify an adverse impact on business.
JCARR Chairman Rep. Ross McGregor (R-Springfield) said the July 11 hearing on proposed veal calf standards would likely have turned out differently had the provision already gone into effect.
“I can only say if this rule came before committee after Senate Bill 2 takes effect, we would be having a very different discussion,” Chairman McGregor said after the hearing. “Obviously it would have an adverse impact — I mean wiping out half the industry.”
In the meantime, Cochrell fears radical animal rightists may not be happy with his challenging of the OLCSB veal standards.
“I’m not so naïve to believe there aren’t going to be implications. Can I envision what they will be — no,” he said. “I have been told to lock my barns.”