So the big meeting of the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board to decide veal standards has come and gone, and with decidedly less tension than I had expected. Indications were that the meeting could get a bit wild — or at least intense — with so many people pledging to come and testify.

My editor, Susan Crowell, called me the morning of and asked me if she should make the three-hour drive to the meeting, too. I assured her I was up to the challenge, but I also welcomed the help, because sometimes you don’t know what to expect. I had seen reports of “humane train” charter buses coming from Cleveland and one from Cincinnati, organized by Humane Society of the United States. And there were reports that a good number of farmers were considering attending.

Big crowd

When I arrived at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, it was clear from the standing-room-only crowd that we would be in for a lively meeting, one way or another. About 100 or so people wore shirts demanding that veal calves in Ohio be housed in a way that allows them to turn around. It was no surprise that the turn-around issue was why most had come.
But I must say that for a packed house, the meeting went surprisingly well, and board members kept to the agenda they had planned. A lot probably had to do with the fact the board unanimously approved re-inserting the turn-around language into the veal standards — allowing calves of all ages to turn around.
The decision was based on a recent letter by members of the veal subcommittee, which said not allowing calves to turn around would not be that significant of an improvement to veal calf production.

Of course, if the veal subcommittee members hadn’t made the recommendation themselves, there were 4,700 emails and a host of concerned citizens prepared to make it for them.

Unanimous vote

As it was, the board was able to make a unanimous decision and it appeared to satisfy most of the activists and concerned citizens who came.

My only real surprise was a presentation by California-based Humane Farming Association. The organization had workers from Erie, Pa.; Nashville, Tenn.; and a few other places, handing out fliers and bumper stickers outside the department. Their headlines read “The Ohio Livestock Board: Perpetuating Farm Animal Cruelty,” and “The Ohio Agreement Betrays Farm Animals.”

To be honest, their statements and their literature turned my stomach. At a meeting where so many people from Ohio — including activists and the HSUS — had only good things to say — here was a new organization popping up, attacking the integrity of the board, the agriculture community’s agreement with HSUS, the HSUS itself and basically all the progress the board has made.

But that brings me to my favorite part of the meeting, and these meetings in general — the democratic structure from which they operate.

Thirteen Ohioans appointed by Ohioans for Ohioans, and with diverse Ohio backgrounds, are entrusted to listen to the public and decide what is best for Ohio — which may or may not be the same as what’s best for Nashville, Tenn., Erie, Pa., or San Rafael, Calif.

Democracy

Board member Robert Cole is just one of 13 members of the board, but he made it clear that the Ohioans appointed to this board take seriously the many emails, beliefs, religions and viewpoints on animal care. It’s “democracy in action,” he said, and I couldn’t agree with him more.

HFA asked whether “society at large” or the “livestock industry itself” should decide how farm animals are treated. The group said one choice is “hopeful” and the other is “hopeless.” As Ohioans, we should feel confident circling “hopeful,” because both the “livestock industry” and the “society at large” are working together in unprecedented ways.

Board member Leon Weaver, in his closing comments, said the board, particularly its members from the livestock industry, is working diligently to hear and accept public concerns, and he asks also that the public be willing to accept and embrace the agricultural expertise of the board, which has a diverse professional background of its own.

“We can find the better good by working together, as we have,” he said.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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