Ohio’s new humane farming bill: What’s it about?

Young cows await the auction pen at White's Livestock Auction in Indiana; a rooster looks on.

A proposed constitutional amendment that defines minimum welfare standards for Ohio’s farm animals, has been cleared by Attorney General Richard Cordray to move toward November’s ballot.  The bill is sponsored by Ohioans for Humane Farms, a coalition of local and national humane societies, consumer safety groups, and others.  The organization’s supporters have until June 30 to gather 402,275 valid Ohio signatures, for the amendment to appear on November’s ballot.

If the bill passes, Ohio’s still-unformed Livestock Care Standards Board will be required to enforce these regulations:

•  Prohibit a farm owner or operator from tethering or confining any calf raised for veal, pig during pregnancy, or egg-laying hen, on a farm, for all or the majority of a day, in a manner that prevents such animal from lying down, standing up, fully extending his or her limbs, or turning around freely.  [Exceptions apply during research, veterinary treatment, and exhibitions.]
•  Require that the killing of cows and pigs on farms be performed in a humane manner [as defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association].
•  Prohibit the killing of cows and pigs on farms by strangulation as a form of euthanasia.
•  Prohibit the transport, sale, or receipt, for use in the human food supply, of any cow or calf too sick or injured to stand and walk.

The two-page text of the proposed amendment is available here; click the link under the words “Livestock Board Amendment.”

Those who stand to benefit most from the bill are laying hens, pregnant sows, and veal calves–animals considered to suffer from the most severe restrictions of bodily movement, on today’s industrial farms.

The amendment could therefore present a cost to industrial-scale egg, pork, and veal producers, by requiring them to resize their cages and crates.

According to United Egg Producer (UEP) President and CEO Gene Gregory, producers accounting for 80% of America’s eggs have already expanded their cages voluntarily, as part of a certification program run by UEP.  Over a six-year period ending in 2008, said Gregory, all of these producers adjusted their facilities to give 67 square inches to each white hen, and 76 square inches to each brown hen, in shared cages.

As a point of comparison, a standard sheet of 8×10″ paper has an area of 80 square inches.

Asked how well the birds are able to extend their limbs under these arrangements, Gregory responded, “They don’t all do it at the same time, but they’re social beings and as such they accommodate each other.”

Under the proposed bill, each bird would be allotted a space of one and a half square feet–equivalent to four sheets of notebook paper arranged in a rectangle.

“That will virtually wipe out the egg industry in Ohio,” said Gregory.

None of the large-scale producers contacted for this article were willing to make a statement on the bill.

But farmers who raise their animals in open spaces such as barns and fields, say they will not be affected.

Diane Emmich, co-owner of B&D Goats in New Richmond with her husband Bob, said the guidelines would not affect her farm.  None of their 15 goats, 30 chickens, or 20 ducks, are tethered or caged.

“We got a chicken house, we do lock them up at night because there’s predators, but they’re not in pens or anything.  They have a really nice little house with heated water.  They’re free to walk around, and our ducks have a little wading pond that they can go swimming in,” said Emmich.  Meanwhile, due to her unique service of egg delivery to around 30 customers, Emmich said her egg business was tripling.

“This bill wouldn’t be an issue for us.”

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