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Ohio offers new approach to animal rights

By Dennis T. Avery
web posted September 14, 2009

Meat production has always been somewhat awkward, both for the farmer and the consumer as it always involves the death of the meat animals. Milk and eggs have meant "protective custody" for the dairy cows and laying hens.

As a farm kid, I learned early that the cute little piglets of the spring would become our pork chops in the fall. I learned that when mother told me to "get her a chicken," it was to be delivered deceased and de-feathered. That didn't weaken my parents' concern that our animals all be treated well while they were in our care. .

Today's big confinement livestock industries have a major problem in convincing distant consumers that they treat their animals with full consideration. On the other hand, the activists who make "gotcha" videotapes may not be the best people to oversee livestock production 

The anti-meat activists tell us their goal is to end animal "exploitation." That apparently would mean no meat production, no household pets, no circuses, no dog shows, no rodeos nor any hunting. There's a strong temptation for activists to misrepresent the farmers and their standards of animal care, in order to get restrictive legislation.

One of President Obama's "Czars"—a Harvard lawyer named Cass Sunstein—says livestock and poultry should have the right to sue their owners in the courts. A wondrous boon to lawyers that would quickly force us all into vegan diets—and poorer health, especially for kids..

California voters in a recent election banned cages for laying hens as of 2015. But banning layer cages results in more cannibalism among the birds, and far more bacterial contamination of the eggs.

Equally awkward, California egg producers will probably be forced out of business because the cost of keeping laying hens without cages has proven about 20 percent higher. It seems certain that California will thus be forced to import cage-produced eggs from adjoining states. They cannot be barred because of the Interstate Commerce clause in the Constitution. California will simply lose thousands of egg-production jobs, huge amounts of fuel will be used  to transport the eggs, and they will be less fresh.

What to do?  

Ohio is exploring a middle option. They want the public to have confidence that the farmers are treating their livestock humanely, but they don't want to put farm supervision in the hands of extremists.     

Their solution is a proposed amendment to Ohio's constitution creating an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. The 13 members would include:

  • The Ohio Director of Agriculture
  • A family farmer appointed by the Speaker of the Ohio House;
  • A family farmer appointed by the President of the Ohio Senate;
  • A "family farm representative";
  • A food safety expert;
  • Two members representing statewide farm organizations;
  • A veterinarian licensed in Ohio;
  • The Ohio State Veterinarian;
  • The dean of agriculture at an Ohio college or university;
  • Two consumer representatives; and
  • One representative of a county humane society.

The board is directed to maintain food safety, encourage locally-grown food, and protect Ohio farms and families—with best-management practices for animal care and well-being, disease prevention, food safety and affordability. This board would not, of course, end the activist complaints. But it would also not end meat production, dairying, pet ownership or hunting.

The Humane Society of the U.S. (not the organization that runs local animal shelters) doesn't like the idea. It says the "industry-dominated board" is poor public policy.

Political compromises, however, always leave most of us with less than we'd like—but perhaps with more than we deserve. ESR

Dennis T. Avery is an environmental economist, and a senior fellow for the Hudson Institute in Washington, DC.  He was formerly a senior analyst for the Department of State. He is co-author, with S. Fred Singer, of Unstoppable Global Warming Every 1500 Hundred Years, Readers may write him at PO Box 202, Churchville, VA 24421 or email to cgfi@hughes.net.

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