Today, we are celebrating the implementation of some major reforms for farm animals that went into effect yesterday in Ohio – a ban on keeping veal calves in crates so small that the animals cannot even turn around, and a ban on cutting off cows’ tails for medically unnecessary reasons.
There’s quite a backstory to these reforms, including a pivotal fight that played out in Ohio in 2010 and that forever changed the way the state deals with animal welfare.
In 2009-2010, The HSUS led a coalition seeking to qualify a ballot initiative to stop extreme confinement of farm animals in Ohio, which had been lagging on a wide range of animal welfare issues.
Ohio was the number two egg producer at the time in the county, with 27 million hens in extreme confinement in battery cages. It was also among the top 10 states in pig and veal production, and extreme confinement for sows and calves was routine in these industries.
What’s more, the state had a thriving cockfighting subculture, and the players in the industry openly defied the state’s weak and unenforced law. It was the number two puppy mill state, with no state standards to assure humane treatment of dogs in these operations. And it was a free-for-all when it came to ownership of dangerous wild animals as pets – no rules at all.
To address some of the problems for farm animals, we assembled a team, including hundreds of volunteers, to collect 500,000 signatures of registered voters in the state — enough to qualify a ballot measure requiring that laying hens, veal calves, and breeding sows be allowed to lie down, stand up, turn around, and freely extend their limbs.
Just days before our signature-gathering submission deadline, then Gov. Ted Strickland reached out to a mutual friend who is a major player in the agriculture community. He asked me to consider Gov. Strickland’s idea of my sitting down with leaders in Ohio agriculture to see if we could work out a deal to avoid both sides spending millions of dollars in a bruising election battle, with one side certain to lose.
I agreed to the discussions, but with just days until the signature-gathering submission deadline, it was a tall order to get there, especially for groups that had been such staunch adversaries.
After 48 hours, most of it spent locked in a room at the governor’s mansion with the then head of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and leading commodity organizations in the state, we hatched an eight-point reform agenda that all parties would work to enact and implement and remake animal welfare in the Buckeye State. In return for the agriculture community’s support for the sweeping agenda, we would not submit the measure to the ballot for a vote.
The ban on veal crates and dairy cow tail docking took effect yesterday, after an agreed-upon phase-in period. We also agreed that the state would phase out the use of gestation crates in the state by 2025; place an immediate moratorium on permits for new battery cage confinement facilities for laying hens; ban strangulation of farm animals and mandate humane euthanasia methods for sick or injured animals; and ban the transport of downer cows for slaughter.
We demanded a strengthened anti-cockfighting law, a ban on private ownership of dangerous wild animals, and reforms on the puppy mill front.
Now eight years later, I am very pleased about the implementation of standards for veal calves and tail cutting of dairy cows, along with the previous reform on downer cows and inhumane methods of killing them. The ban on gestation crates is still several years ahead. Sadly, the Ohio Livestock Standards Board has not faithfully barred new battery cage facilities from opening, but at this point, it would be foolish for the industry to compound its bad behavior by building more such inhumane housing operations, given that 300 major food retailers have said they will stop buying eggs from such operations.
It wasn’t easy with the other provisions either. It took six years for the anti-cockfighting law to pass (it should have taken six minutes), with one key state senator fighting it for inexplicable reasons (the Ohio Poultry Association was a staunch supporter of the effort to strengthen the anti-cockfighting law and was as frustrated as we were by legislative stonewalling). After Gov. Strickland left office, the state also failed to act on implementing a ban on dangerous wild animals kept as pets. That attitude changed overnight after a deranged exotic animal owner released more than 50 dangerous wild animals into the town of Zanesville, and the state led the national news because it had no law to prevent this kind of mayhem. Gov. John Kasich and the legislature then scrambled to pass a new law, and it’s worked very well since.
Now, eight years later, our teams are once again out in the field in Ohio gathering signatures – this time for a new measure to crack down on puppy mills. The state did pass a weak law to deal with puppy mills after our historic animal welfare agreement, but after five years of implementation, it’s not doing the job. The new measure, pushed by Stop Puppy Mills Ohio, is more comprehensive and will lead to stronger standards for the care of dogs.
There are times when negotiations are needed. And there are times as well when we must initiate even stronger reforms. That time has come for puppy mills.