Relief and resentment fly, after latest veal standards decision

Video coverage transcript:

A tense crowd of nearly 200 people watched last week, as Ohio’s Livestock Care Standards Board granted future veal calves the space to turn around in a circle. The unanimous vote reversed a decision made just one month ago, which permitted farmers to house calves in narrow, solitary stalls. That first decision prompted over 4,700 Ohioans to email the board, most of them asking for the use of those stalls to end.

Jeff Wuebker, the board member who successfully argued for permitting those stalls last month, responded to critics by holding up a bag of Aureomycin, an oral antibiotic that he said calves would need to consume in much larger amounts, if they moved into group housing.

Jeff Wuebker, pork producer from Versailles, Ohio: “I want you to know that this is what you’re telling me that you might want.”

Wuebker also had harsh words for press and other organizations that he said had publicly misrepresented the board’s last decision, naming the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association as an example.

Wuebker: “I guess to tell the truth is one thing, but to misrepresent the standards and lie about it is another, and that’s the way I’ve looked at how they’ve—how it was sent out.”

But then he shifted focus.

Wuebker: “With all those things said, I do appreciate the e-comment process, and all of you who have taken the time to comment to our board. And the last thing is, as a livestock farmer in the state of Ohio, I do not want to go to a ballot initiative. I know it would be very detrimental to the State of Ohio, to its consumers, to the farmers, and to the animals that the farmers care for. So with that all being said, Mr. Chairman, I move to reconsider the motion that was passed at the last board meeting, in Section 901:12-5-03, Section C-3.”

‘An individual pen must permit a calf’s movement as described in section C-1 of this rule, and in addition the calf must be able to turn around.’ That is my motion.”

Board Member and Cincinnati SPCA President Harold Dates, seconded the motion.

During the public comment period that followed, animal advocates from across Ohio addressed the board, wearing T-shirts that read, “Let them turn around.” Many expressed gratitude for the board’s decision.

Veronica Dickey, Stark County: “In Stark County we are somewhat city, but we also have many farms throughout the county. I also have a B.S. In Agriculture from Ohio State University, so obviously I’m not against farming at all. But as farmers, we do understand that there are good practices and there are bad practices.  So I applaud the Livestock Care Board’s Standards.”

Kira Pilat, Cuyahoga County: “All though I did not grow up on a farm—and especially as I listen to you, sir—I could not be more proud to be the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of Ohio farmers from Huron County. And I’m a volunteer with Ohioans for Humane Farms. I simply want to thank the board for all the work you’ve done, and for your vote today. Again, I was one of the thousands of volunteers who collected signatures to implement minimum standards of care for our farm animals, and I’m grateful to see the board carefully consider the input of all Ohioans. Thank you so much.”

Others took the opportunity to share the perspectives on animal life and suffering that motivated their political work.

Shane Lampman, New Albany, Ohio: “We may think, ‘they are only animals,’ but they don’t have the luxury of thinking that way. They are stuck in their own consciousness, and within that consciousness they are clearly having a very real experience of suffering, a suffering that they are unable to rationalize away as the ‘mere suffering of an animal.’

It is common to confine animals to living conditions that we would never accept for ourselves, because we understand that they have a less complex consciousness, a smaller intellect, than we possess. But in fact, this probably makes the experience far worse for them, because they are stuck in the moment. Animals are far more sensitive to their surrounding environment than we are. They cannot let their minds wander to find comfort in things like relivion, philosophy, spirituality, or even hope.  They cannot strive to find a purpose for their suffering, or accept it as part of God’s plan, or think back to better times, or hope for a better future.  They cannot reflect upon the suffering of others or find a reason to be grateful for their own blessings. All the methods we use to cope with our own suffering are unavailable to these animals, and so they must sit and suffer, and believe that they will always suffer unless someone chooses to understand their suffering and alleviate their anguish.”

Saiom Shriver, coordinator of an international Animal Rights Coalition from Akron, Ohio: “We boycotted BK for 3 years when they began the veal sandwich, and after 3 years of picketing them in over 100 cities we achieved a total withdrawal. We did that because we believe that God is omnipresent and dwells not only in everyone here—on the board, and in the audience—but in every animal, as well. The people who voted for the Livestock Board, voted—on the ballot, four times the word ‘care for animals’ was mentioned—and that was the primary reason that people in Ohio voted for the board.”

Livestock farmers also stood up to share personal reflections on their work, animals, and families.

David Troyer, beef and veal producer from Sugar Creek, Ohio: “I’ve got part of my family here. This is Randall—he’s 16, Shane—he’s thirteen, this is my wife. And then I got a son at home that’s 13. I’ve been a farmer—we’ve got veal calves and beef cows—my dad was a dairy farmer, my grandfather was a farmer, and my great-grandfather was a farmer. And I’m glad for it, and I’m proud to be a farmer. And we’re the ones that supply you all with meat, that you have something to eat. And we use our animals as humane and the best that we know how. We get up, I and my sons, at 4 o’clock in the morning, go out and feed them, and feed them at night. And if there’s something out in the pasture, a cow giving birth or something, we’ll get up at 12 o’clock or 1 o’clock in the morning, to take care of them.”

Chuck Wildman, pork producer from South Charleston, Ohio: “I’ve heard recently the concept—and you hear it many times at different rallying cries, I guess—being a voice for the voiceless. And it occurred to me as I was thinking about that, how do I address or illustrate that. I think of my son, who has Down Syndrome, he’s eleven years old. And he struggles mightily with the complications of that. One being he cannot speak. He can hardly utter an intelligible word that I can understand. But my wife and my daughter can communicate with him at some level. They are immersed in Simon’s world and they can understand him.”

What I’m saying is, she is an expert in Simon-talk because of who she is and what she does, and she’s immersed herself in that. And I’m just excited to see the board, and to realize that when you talk about a voice for the voiceless, you board members all represent experts at some level in agriculture. You’ve reached out to experts at university levels across the globe to gain more understanding of that. And by your efforts, by the votes of 2,020,851 people that established the board, you have become the voice for those voiceless. I really appreciate the work you’re doing, and how you can take your expertise and bring that to bear, and come up with good and reasonable compromises. Thank you.”

Gail Eisnitz, author of the 1997 book “Slaughterhouse,” condemned last year’s agreement between the board and Humane Society of the United States. It failed to give any endpoint to the cramped battery cages housing 27 million egg laying hens, she said, and provided wide loopholes for keeping many pregnant sows locked in tight gestation crates, past the 2025 phase-out date.

Before the board meeting, The Humane Farming Association handed out literature denouncing the actions of both the Livestock Board and the Humane Society of the United States.

Gail Eisnitz, author and activist from Asheville, NC: “I can promise you that the arbitrary, capricious, and politically-influenced standards being adopted by this board, will be facing increased public awareness and opposition, in the weeks and months to come.”

Eisnitz serves as chief investigator of the Humane Farming Association, a national organization that distributed literature before the board meeting, condemning the board and its endorsement by the Humane Society of the United States.

Leaders of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association also responded to the board’s decision and Mr. Wuebker’s comments.

Linda Lord, President of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association from Columbus, Ohio: “We have been transparent and professional in our engagements with this board. We do not appreciate, however, the disparaging comments by Mr. Wuebker about our Executive Director Jack Advent, our organization, or our communication with our members. Our statement, which we sent to our members, asking them to make a comment in the e-comment period, I signed as the President, as did Brad Garrisson, Chairman of our Food Animal Committee. Our statement was factual, and I’m happy to share it with anybody who’d like to see it.”

There was also some back-and-forth within the board’s audience, about the rationale for raising calves in groups.

Bob Cochrell, chairman of the board’s Veal Subcommittee from Burbank, Ohio: “I would have a question for the board. What makes intact Holstein bull calves that are raised for the veal market unique, that they should have to be housed in group pens? I’m not aware of any other species or classes—other than perhaps camelids, which you’ve just addressed—that allows for socialization.”

Sirrus Lawson-Bourne, Bexley, Ohio: “The reasoning behind implementing group pens are due to the fact that bovine are herd animals, and this is why the socialization is important to their health and well being.”

During the meeting’s recess veal producers gathered to speak quietly together, while upbeat activists poured out of the conference room, their job done for the day.

When the meeting reconvened, board member Leon Weaver, a dairy farmer and former veterinarian, reached out to the few remaining observers, asking animal advocates to understand and work with the board.

Leon Weaver, dairy producer and former veterinarian: “You hear the agriculture community often say that ‘we want to do this about science.’ That’s how we’re trained, that’s how we think. And what you haven’t had the opportunity to observe, is agricultural scientists—veterinarians, agronomists, and livestock specialists—begin to embrace the partnership with the consumer and the public…

“I think this board and the livestock community at large, is really learning to respect the diverse viewpoints and the diverse bodies of knowledge that need to be brought to this task. And I want to ask the public at large to embrace us in the same way. I can tell you, without naming names, there are people on this board—more than one or two—that cast votes against their personal experiences. Somebody said, ‘I’m going to vote for this but animals will die.’ So what we’re saying is, we’re balancing the broader perspectives.

“And so I’m just making a plea—for particularly those that are here now, because you’re more committed, you stayed the extra hour—to join us in a partnership to find the best good. Don’t believe that because you’re vocal, or because you outnumber us, or because we vote to your point of view, that there’s only one facet to this issue. We’ve spent our whole lives on these things, and we have opinions too. We’re not right all the time, but we have opinions, and we can find the better good, by working together as we have. And I just want to commend you for being involved, and continue to engage with us, recognizing that we have something to contribute as agricultural people, just as you have something to contribute as consumers. Thank you.”

If you’d like to become involved with the decisions of this board, visit http://ohiolivestockcarestandardsboard.gov for meeting details.

Reporting for SentientCincinnati.com, I’m Fabien Tepper.

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