My purpose here is not to defend one form of farming over the other; in fact I know several farmers in Ohio that use different styles and use good management to make sure their calves are well cared for. I personally have no stake in the veal industry.
In November of 2009 Ohio citizens voted for a proposition that would create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board (OLCSB) that would be responsible for creating and enforcing correct livestock care guidelines for farmers within the state. Since then a lot of volunteers from all walks of life have been working endlessly investigating research and debating the pro’s and con’s of different animal handling practices.
One of the biggest debates happening with OLCSB members and volunteers has been over proper animal care for veal calves. Ohio is not the first state to have this discussion.
- In 1992, when the California Legislature was considering legislating veal housing by eliminating current Best Management Practices, they turned to their Land Grant University for the answers to the question “What is best for the Animal?”. UC Davis and Carolyn Stull did the research study and determined that the Individual Tethered Stall served as the best overall system for the young Bovine. As a result of this study, the CA Legislature took no action to eliminate this system.
- In 2003, the NJ Legislature considered legislation to ban the practice of tethering Veal calves and include the feeding of “digestible fiber”. NJ in kind, turned to their Land Grant University for the answers concerning these practices. Rutgers University’s, Dr.Westendorf reviewed and compiled all of the research data detailing the benefits of the Individual Stall System and finding negligible detrimental behaviors in the calves from the use of this System. The NJ Legislature took this information and endorsed the AVA 2001 Calf Care Guidelines as the NJ “Standard” for Veal housing.
Outside of the livestock care board The Humane Society of The United States, an animal
rights group, have also been in a game of politics with several farm groups and government officials in an effort to persuade the board’s decision. June 30th these groups reached a 10 part agreement on animal husbandry practices, supporting the work of OLCSB, and jointly fund and investigate new research on animal husbandry practices. According to the agreement farmers producing veal would have to adapt to a complete group housing system by 2017.
Because OLCSB members are bound to an ethical responsibility to adopt animal care standards that are best suited for the farmer and animal and looking at the previous research conducted within the United States I was not surprised when the OLCSB was unable to adopt the suggestions put forth by the agreement between the past governor, HSUS, and Ohio Farm groups.
To back up a little, currently small independent veal farmers in Ohio are finding themselves in a tough situation. Over their lifetime they have invested in equipment and facilities to properly care for their calves to sell to their customers. Most of these farmers have been unwilling to invest in facilities that would allow their calves to socialize because of problems with calves sucking on ears, navels and drinking urine that can drastically decrease the health of the calf and increase the percentages of deaths on their farms. Due to this and the overwhelming cost to renovate their barns nearly all the independently family owned veal farms in Ohio have signed an affidavit stating that they will no longer be able to raise veal calves in Ohio if forced to conform to group pens by 2017
It is always possible that past research is one sided or biased, or even outdated. This is a perfect opportunity to take up the Humane Society on their agreement to work with Farm groups to “examine and jointly fund independent research projects and studies to identify best practices and to work for the highest farm animal care and welfare standards. If assistance of a third party is needed they will jointly agree on a representative to help in these discussion”. Since these groups are diametrically opposed in their viewpoints the findings should be both neutral and current. The Ohio Livestock care board should then have the opportunity to evaluate these findings and give adequate amount of time for veal farmers to adopt to the new standards that they adopt.