A Battle Over the Treatment of Livestock

  • The treatment of laying hens is one part of the issue getting a lot of attention in Ohio. (Photo source: LEAPTOUY at Wikimedia Commons)

Recently, six states have changed their laws to require
better conditions for farm animals. But there’s a battle
brewing in one state that’s putting a new spin on the debate.
Julie Grant reports:


Recently, six states have changed their laws to require
better conditions for farm animals. But there’s a battle
brewing in one state that’s putting a new spin on the debate.
Julie Grant reports:

The Humane Society of the United States says it’s shameful
the way animals are treated on many American farms. Paul
Shapiro says veal calves, pregnant pigs, and egg-laying
hens are all kept in cages so small – it’s cruel.

“Hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens in the nation are
confined in tiny battery cages that are so restrictive the birds
are unable even to spread their wings.”

Shapiro says some farms house millions of hens, all
squished into tiny cages, and none of them get the chance to
nest, or act in any way like natural chickens. The Humane
Society has spent millions of dollars pushing for change in
California and other states.

But when the Humane Society hit Ohio with its campaign,
the state Farm Bureau Federation pushed back.

Keith Stimpert is spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau. He
says there’s a reason cages are a certain size for hens,
calves, and pigs: the animals’ safety.

“You can expand space, but you’re going to increase
aspects of fighting or cannibalistic behavior, or the chance
for that sow to fall down while she’s pregnant.”

Stimpert says the Humane Society doesn’t understand

So instead of negotiating with the Humane Society, the Ohio
Farm Bureau is proposing something new: a state board to
oversee the care of livestock.

“I think we, in this case, can get to a better resolution on
animal care by organizing this board.”

The board would include family farmers, veterinarians, a
food safety expert, and a member of a local chapter of the
Humane Society, among others.

Voters will probably be asked in November to decide
whether to change the state constitution to create this board.

But the Humane Society’s Paul Shapiro says the board will
be stacked by the Farm Bureau. He calls it a power grab by
big agriculture.

“Keep in mind that these are people who have opposed,
tooth and nail, any form of agricultural regulation for years,
and now, all of a sudden, in just a few weeks, they’ve gotten
religion and feel grave urgency to enshrine in the state’ s
constitution their own favored system of oversight.”

Shapiro says this board will only protect the status quo. And
that’s not good for the animals.

Egg producer Mark Whipple runs a small farm in Clinton,
Ohio. He’s got about 1,500 hens. We caught up with him
delivering eggs at a local health food store.

He says his hens are free range.

“There ain’t no cages, really. They go in the box, lay their
egg, and go out and run around with the rest of ‘em, go eat,
drink, I don’t know, just be free.”

Whipple says he was never inclined to cage the hens.

You might expect him to side with the Humane Society on
this debate. But he doesn’t trust them to make decisions for

“I don’t know that they really know where their food comes
from – other than they go to the grocery store or they go to
the refrigerator. Unfortunately, that’s a lot the mentality of
the world right now, so far removed from the farm at all,
knowing about livestock.”

Whipple says there are good producers and bad producers
out there – just like any business. He would rather see a
board like the one proposed by the farm bureau than a
mandate on cage sizes from a Washington DC-based
lobbying group.

But the Humane Society says the board proposed by the
Farm Bureau won’t make things better. If it’s approved by
voters this November, the Society plans to place its own
initiative on animal treatment on the ballot next year.

Meanwhile, other farm states are considering the Ohio Farm
Bureau’s approach and might soon have their own advisory
boards on how to treat animals.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

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