Ohio’s Livestock Care Standards Board moved with unusual swiftness and cheer last week, to vote the final 25 pages of their document one step closer to entering the Ohio Revised Code. Likely to become effective this July, these will be the state’s first statutes regulating the care of chickens, pigs, cows, horses, turkeys, sheep, goats, alpacas and llamas—all of whom are excluded from the federal Animal Welfare Act.
Congratulations have hummed within the board and animal protection groups, for arriving at mutually-palatable standards after a year-long haul. But as the whittled rules move forward, no structure exists to enforce them.
While board members discussed plans to educate livestock producers on the new rules, Dominic Marchese voiced a worry that farmers would be told, “Do what you’re doing, and you’ll only be in violation if there’s a complaint.”
“I don’t want to go there,” said Marchese, an organic beef producer from Trumbull County who said board members had murmured about this possibility.
Multiple members were quick to reply that outreach efforts would aim to protect farmers by bringing them into compliance—not to coach them on avoiding change.
But however the new rules may be presented to farmers, there is no system in place to monitor their compliance. State Veterinarian Tony Forshey will investigate reports of civil animal care infractions, just as local humane societies investigate criminal animal cruelty tips; no one has been tasked with looking for them.
In contrast, the Department of Agriculture’s Dairy Division annually conducts about 10,000 random and unannounced milk safety inspections on the state’s 3,377 licensed producers, according to ODA Communications Director Andy Ware. And the agency’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program conducts about 345 waste management audits of Ohio’s 177 Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs)—those which raise over 650 cows, 1000 steers, 2,500 pigs, or 100,000 chickens.
For the near future, farms will continue to receive far less formal scrutiny for the quality of their animal care, than for their environmental or public health impacts.
“Do we have folks who go out and routinely visit all Ohio farms? The answer is no,” answered Ware. “We’re on dairy farms for food safety, and we’re on CAFOs for the permitting program. As need arises to ensure the health of Ohio’s livestock in response to animal disease situations, we’re on farms in response to those situations.”
All of the CAFO and dairy inspectors would be briefed on the new Livestock Care Standards, said Ware, and instructed to report any animal care infractions they might see.
But the 3,377 dairy facilities and 177 CAFOs which are regularly inspected represent a small minority of the producers in Ohio, where cattle facilities alone number over 15,000. Most livestock farms rarely receive inspectors.
As the new law stands, if a beef producer drags a broken-legged steer onto a truck for slaughter, the probability is small that an inspector will be there to see it. If a farmer slices the horns off a goat without analgesic, it will likely go unreported.
The only organized efforts to pinpoint specific animal care failures in Ohio are not agricultural initiatives, but covert video investigations by animal protection groups like Mercy for Animals. And Ohio’s agricultural community has plugged in to a movement to stop those exposés.
At last week’s annual symposium of the Ohio Livestock Coalition, Professor Peggy Kirk Hall of OSU’s Agricultural and Resource Law Program presented a portfolio of laws that could curtail undercover videos by criminalizing them. From a current Florida proposal that would make unauthorized photography on farms a first-degree felony, to the 2007 federal Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, which prescribes up to 20 years in jail for causing “economic damage” to a farm, national and state agricultural lobbies have been upping the ante for groups that tarnish the image of animal farming.
The Livestock Care Standards comprise a landmark move by an agricultural agency, to define and codify good animal care as an important goal in its own right, distinct from both environmental stewardship and public health. But without an auditing system, public conversations about farm animal care may remain stuck between damning videos and damning efforts to ban them.