Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board

I was recently asked to offer my input on the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to a student who was writing a paper on its purpose, how it functions, and potential benfits to farming. I wanted to share it with you to offer perspective on how the OLCSB is shaping up since the passage of Issue 2 in 2009 that led to its creation.

I am a commercial goat producer in Franklin County, and also raise chickens, cows, pigs, and sheep on my family's farm. I am the fifth generation of my family to raise livestock on this land. In addition to my farming ventures, I also do quite a bit of public speaking to promote agriculture and serve on the boards of the Franklin County Farm Bureau, the Ohio Sheep Improvement Association, the American Goat Federation, and the Eastern Cashmere Association. I previously managed an on-farm slaughterhouse, which processed sheep & goats that were marketed to the ethnic community of Columbus.

Having worked closely with the Ohio Department of Agriculture during my five years at the slaughterhouse, I am keenly aware of the challenges & demands of food processing. Likewise, my experience of marketing sheep & goats, with the general public and with various niche markets, indicated to me that the public values certain standards in food production. I see two primary values to the creation of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board: the opportunity for Ohio to assert itself as a leader in animal care and the ability of consumers to know Ohio farm products are exceptional.

Farmers who raise livestock work incredibly hard to ensure the care of those animals. Agriculture requires long hours of labor, sometimes in difficult conditions, for minimal profit. Farmers who raise livestock do it because they are passionate about their chosen field. They are sincerely concerned about the well-being of the creatures in their care. Thus, farmers are disgusted when any case of animal abuse arises within the farm community. Cases of animal abuse are detrimental to the public's regard of the farm community, and such abuse is not tolerated by members of that community. Beyond the innate concern that farmers have for their animals, they also recognize that a mistreated animal is not productive. This makes animal abuse counter-productive to the ability of the farmer to succeed in his business. Farmers in Ohio want to be regarded as leaders in animal care. The OLCSB provides an opportunity for standards to be developed by which farmers can assert that their animals are raised in superior conditions.

Consumers routinely indicate that they want to know the products they buy are produced under standards which they support. The OLCSB allows for Ohio farmers to be able to promote their products in a special way. Consumers can purchase Ohio-raised meat, milk, eggs, and fiber with the assurance that the source animals were treated with excellent care. Farmers & consumers have a special relationship that is primarily dictated by consumer dollars. Through the free market, consumers can enjoy food choice by choosing products that reflect their desires. Whether conventional, organic, naturally raised, no hormones added, etc, etc -- farmers seek to raise products that allow them to be profitable. Profit is NOT a dirty word: farmers also have to feed their families, afford housing, and pay bills. Thus, if consumers show a willingness to support certain farming practices financially, farmers will utilize such production methods. The OLCSB can serve to oversee standards that allow consumers the confidence that all Ohio products are raised under certain guidelines, therefore allowing consumers to make further food choice selections from that point.

I currently serve on the Sheep and Goat Subcommittees for the OLCSB. The OLCSB is set up in such a way that subcommittees are structured to provide appropriate input relative to different species of livestock. The Sheep and Goat Subcommittees include farmers, veterinarians, processors, and researchers. This allows for a wide variety of input to be offered to the OLCSB as decisions are made on standards creation. Any rules proposed by the OLCSB are then subject to public hearings and government review under the J-CARR process of the state legislature. This allows for the public to also be involved in the work of the OLCSB.

At its heart, the OLCSB serves to protect consumer interests, advocate for the well-being of farmers, and ensure that Ohio's livestock are treated well. It offers a bright future for Ohio farmers!

Photo Caption: Mr. Piggy enjoys being an animal raised in Ohio!

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