Regulating Livestock Welfare Remains an Issue Around the Country
Written by: Ellen Essman, Law Fellow, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program
While livestock producers in Ohio have been subject to standards for the care of livestock since 2011, animal welfare remains a topic of debate around the country. Most recently, attention turned to the care of livestock raised under the National Organic Program and animals raised in confinement in Massachusetts. In this post, we examine the proposed federal organic standards and a livestock care ballot initiative passed in Massachusetts. The discussion provides an opportunity to take a look at the status of Ohio's livestock care standards.
Federal Organic Standards
On January 19, 2017, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) promulgated a final rule for the National Organic Program (NOP). The rule concerns practices for organic livestock and poultry. Namely, the rule “clarifies how producers and handlers participating in the NOP must treat livestock and poultry to ensure their wellbeing.” These treatment standards are applicable at numerous times throughout the lives of livestock, including when the animals are transported or slaughtered. Additionally, the rule spells out the amount and type of indoor and outdoor space organic poultry must have under NOP. The rule also describes the timing and methods for physically altering livestock and poultry under NOP. The rule allows “[p]hysical alterations…only…for an animal’s welfare, identification, or safety.” For example, the rule limits the use of teeth clipping and tail docking in pigs, and prohibits the de-beaking of chickens or face branding of cattle. Many other banned and limited alterations are spelled out in the rule, as well as provisions that require active monitoring of animal health and treatment of injuries, sicknesses, and diseases. The rule was originally supposed to become effective on March 20, 2017. The Trump Administration, however, has since instituted a regulatory freeze in order to review recently made regulations. In response to the regulatory freeze, AMS pushed back the effective date to May 19, 2017. Barring any decisions by the new administration to the contrary, the rule should become effective on that date. More information concerning this final rule is available here.
Massachusetts voters approve livestock confinement ballot initiative
Some states have taken it upon themselves to address various aspects of animal welfare. This past Election Day, Massachusetts passed Question 3, a ballot initiative concerning confinement of livestock. Question 3, also called the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, applies to farm owners and operators who raise breeding pigs, veal calves, and egg-laying hens within the state, and also to business owners and operators who sell products from such livestock within the state. When the Act becomes effective on January 1, 2022, this will mean that any farmers or businesses selling their pork, veal, or eggs in Massachusetts, even if they are not physically located within the state, would have to comply with the state’s confinement rules. The law prohibits the aforementioned livestock being “confined in a cruel manner,” meaning that the animals cannot be “confined so as to prevent [them] from lying down, standing up, fully extending [their] limbs, or turning around freely.” There are certain exceptions to this rule, including during transport, at fairs, during a veterinary examination, etc. When the Act goes into effect, violators will face a $1,000 civil fine per violation, and/or an injunction
Ohio Livestock Care Standards
As many will remember, Ohio has its own laws and regulations concerning livestock welfare. Voters passed an amendment to the Ohio Constitution in 2009. The amendment created the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which was tasked with creating the actual “care standards” for livestock animals in the state. The first of these “livestock care standards,” or rules, became effective on September 29, 2011. Standards exist for different types of livestock and cover everything from acceptable euthanasia practices for each species, to the provision of food and water, to acceptable methods of transportation. The board continues to meet regularly to review the care standards.
The regulations on livestock care include an investigation process initiated by complaints on potential violations of the standards. Since the standards became effective, the Ohio Department of Agriculture has received a number of complaints and works with operators to bring them into compliance if the agency finds a violation. According to Farm and Dairy, there were 51 such investigations in 2012, 29 in 2013, and 23 in 2014. In 2015, there were 33 investigations—23 of which resulted in no violations of the standards. Producers can learn more about the livestock care standards at http://www.agri.ohio.gov/LivestockCareStandards.