Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Option Three Please

The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board is faced with an interesting challenge in the coming weeks. Let me attempt to describe it simply so that the challenge can be seen clearly. I see all things through the lense of a pork porducer but I think the situation is the same for other species.

The question before the Board is, "What do we do about the "Ohio agreement" with HSUS?". There are, at present, two options to chose from. Neither, appears particularly beneficial when a person stops and thinks about it very hard.

Option 1: The Board upholds the agreement, as written, and thereby ends the use of gestation stalls as a singular housing strategy by 2025 in Ohio. The off shoot of this is that sows will have to spend some part of their time in group housing environments. While there are managers and systems that can do a fine job in this environment, not everyone can do it 100% of the time. It is inevitable that when sows are housed together they will fight to establish a social order and in this fighting some are going to get chewed up pretty good. It is also inevitable that pictures of these sows will find their way into the media. These pictures could be used to discredit the Livestock Care Standards Board. I can hear it now. The voice-over audio accompaning video of two sows in a death match fight says, "This is what the Care Standards Board approves as human treatment of animals ......". This is not a good option from the Care Board's perspective, in my opinion.

Option 2: The Board disapproves/ignors the "Ohio Agreement" and thereby allows the use of  gestation stalls as a singular housing method in the state of Ohio. HSUS has made it very clear this option will be met with an all out assault on the states producers through a ballot initiative. This campaign would feature every ugly thing that can be put on display and do tremendous harm to the reputation and stability of the farming community well beyond the borders of Ohio. The board would be painted as a bunch of industry hacks and a sham and be discredited in the eyes of the voters that gave it authority to deal with their concerns. It seems to me, this is not a good option from the Care Board's perspective.

It is obvious a third option is needed. A course of action that brings something new to the table that is a stretch for both the farmer and the critic. A course of action that reaches to the consumer to address his concerns in a credible and obvious way. A course of action that allows the Care Board to address the issue in a way that there is hope for it to be resolved in the future, over time, not just to continue as a point of contention into the future.

What might this option look like? How can the consumer be reached in a new way? What things are out there that stretch the producer and the critic but add value to the consumer? I am aware as a producer of a couple things that could be done. Things I am a little uncomfortable with for various reasons but that might be of interest to the consumer who is wanting more transparency and information on where food comes from and how animals are being cared for.

For example: I give farm tours from time to time. These allow people to see what is happening and to experience it, but I can't completely control the impression that is made. The same for news stories and interviews. Both stretch my comfort zone, much like my wife cleaning the house before the guests arrive. There is nothing to hide but some things don't need to be seen. I can't really control what the guests think when they leave.

I am aware that video monitoring technology is available. is one example. American Humane has a more advanced system I am told. Could this technology be used to "open the doors" on my operation to the consumer?

Along the "farm tour" line of thought, could groups of random consumers (a jury pool type deal) be given access to farms to fill out audit questionaires and then that data be compiled to guide and direct the industry and enforcement actions.Questions to the pool might be of the type, "Rate your perception of the condition of the animals at this farm", "Does the farm operator appear to be providing for the needs of the animals", "is the farmer making reasonable tradeoffs to advance the animal's well being?", etc. These audit results would then be used to develop a score card that farms could use for comparison and to make adjustments to increase future scores and to defend themselves from accusations.

Part of the "Ohio Agreement" discusses joint research. Could developing this audit questionaire and the data baseline be part of this research. Maybe this random consumer group would followup on complaints with ODA and provide another set of eyes and ears to the process.

These suggestions are a stretch to my comfort level and are way beyond my ability to design but they would provide the consumer with greater access to his food and it's care. The critic would be tested because the consumer might just conclude that the farmer is generally doing a stellar job and is deserving of continued support and appreciation. This would hurt the business of being a critic but should critics have a full time job?

My point in all this discussion is that there has to be an "Option 3". Somewhere there is knowledge and understanding that can be brought to bare on this challenge for the Care Board that will be beneficial. The Care Board needs to be able to chose an option that is a "good" option. Right now I only see two "bad" options being discussed. In all things the consumer and his needs must be brought front and center since without a happy and comfortable consumer things are going to keep getting worse.

Thank you for your consideration.

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