Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Care Board Suggestions

As usual, the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board has been on my mind. If you don't care much about this you might want to stop reading now and go surf the web somewhere else. I am thinking this blog could get a little, as they say, "inside baseball". But hey, someone has got to think about this stuff, right?

I sit on the Livestock Care Board's swine subcommittee. In theory ideas related to swine care should start with this committee and move up to the full board. That is a nice theory that works well on paper but not so much in real life. In real life ideas just sort of arrive from wherever, maybe even this humble blog, and some find their way into consideration and some don't. Depending on the size of your, shall we say "personality", your idea may get more or less consideration. So HSUS's ideas recieve ALOT of consideration because their personality is big enough to threaten the entire government structure of the State of Ohio. The governor's office, producer groups, and the Farm Bureau all have pretty sizable personalities in this discussion as well. So you are a little niave to think that the system is going to work according to theory. It isn't. It is going to work according to politics. The great hope of Issue 2, and the consequent Livestock Care Standards Board, is to bring this political process into the public forum and open it up to more voices and ideas. This blog is my humble attempt to bring some new ideas to the conversation and maybe move it in a positive direction.

So what are the politics? Here is the situation as I see it. HSUS threatened Ohio Agriculture with a punitive ballot initiative. Ohio Agriculture, along with their friends at the State House, responded with the creation of the Livestock Care Standards Board. HSUS then threatened Ohio Agriculture with another punitive ballot initiative. The Governor's mansion responded by brokering the so called "Ohio Agreement" to keep the whole arguement off the fall ballot and push it back to the Care Board. The Care Board has been happily doing what government boards do,write regulations to regulate animal care in the state of Ohio and slowly moving toward a discussion of the "Ohio Agreement". Of course, the Care Board is also doing the other thing that government boards do; protect it's authority and declare it's independence. Therefore, the "Ohio Agreement", though it must be dealt with, has had to wait in line until after the election and has not been given front billing. But the election is over and the day is coming. Of course, now there is an entirely new personality at the governor's mansion so all the calculations have to be redone by all the other personalities.

In the middle of and as a result of all this, the swine subcommittee has forwarded to the full board recommended wording for their consideration that would turn the "Ohio Agreement" and its language (practically verbatim) into regulation. The Care Board took one look at this language and sent it back to the subcommittee. I see this as the Board wanting to put its stamp of independence on the wording, that is what Board's do. They want to appear independent. It should not be a surprise to anyone. If the Care Board accepts the "Ohio Agreement" as written, then what is the point of having the board? The Board would look like it was doing what it was told to do by whatever personalities are involved and that it really had no independence. All that sitting around talking, sometimes referred to as "watching paint dry" would be seen as a waste of time. I doubt any government board is going to go charging down that path willingly. At the end of the day, the Board wants to be able to say that they protected the consumer citizens of the state of Ohio. So what is to be done?

Here is my idea, hopefully some bigger personality will bring at least part of it to the discussion.

Instead of using the language of the "Ohio Agreement" practically verbatim why not get to the same end point by a different route? Why not say, "After this or that date no swine in the state of Ohio shall be housed for more than 50% of each productive cycle in such a way that it cannot lie down, standup, turnaround for a major portion of each day." The Board can tinker with the start dates and the time percentage. They should stick in some wording to allow agressive, injured, or compromised animals special exception.

Under this proposal, a producer has the freedom to use housing methods for the benefit of the animal and people as he best chooses within that restriction. An inspector can pretty quickly inspect a facility for compliance. Count the sows. Count the sows in the stalls. Divide. Multiply by 100 if you really follow the math proceedure. And, wahla, in compliance or out.

To address concerns about grandfathering in existing operations perhaps the establishment of a new "premise ID number" with the state of Ohio premise registry could be referred to. If you are going to build or expand in such a way that you should have a new "premise ID" then this or that rule would apply to you. I really don't know the rules on these Premise ID's but it is an idea that could be explored.

I continue to ponder how the Care Board could facilitate an open audit process of facilities so that the industry and consumers might better get to know each other and develop a greater connection. My blog posting entitled "option three please" touches on this subject. I won't repeat it here. These things would put the Care Board's stamp of independence on the discussion.

In all these suggestions I am striving to minimize regulation and thereby increase the freedoms available to the people that feed each of us and have to develop compassionate ways to get that job done. I am trying to allow the Care Board to act independently but get the parties to the "Ohio Agreement" to a similar end point. And in all things to do those things that will increase the consumer's confidence in the quality of the food that is presented to them for nourishment.

Thank you for your thought.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Can"t Sell it at Barnes and Noble

I recently attended an Animal Welfare Symposium at the Ohio State University along with several hundred other people. The Keynote speaker was Dr. Temple Grandin. For those who are unfamiliar, Dr. Grandin is a world recognized specialist in the matters of animal behavior, particularly, cattle (she is from Colorado) but also poultry and swine. She has built her reputation and expertise over a lifetime of dedicated work in the livestock industry. She has been a leader in developing affective methods of livestock handling that reduce stress and injury to people and animals. She has accomplished all this while overcoming the personal challenge of autism. She is a successful writer and has had a movie made documenting her life's work and struggles. She is a person deserving of admiration and respect.

During her keynote address and the question and answer time afterward she repeatedly proclaimed that sow gestation stalls need to be gotten rid of. Her primary defense of that statement was that, "You can't sell them to the public at Barnes and Noble in New York and come out alive."

While I can't argue with the truthfulness of the statement, I would like to unpack it just a little bit.

Earlier in the conference Charlie Arnot, from the Center For Food Integrity, had displayed a pie chart of the Roger's rules of adoption. In this chart we see that a very small percentage of people (2%) are innovators. They are free thinkers that make up their own mind and see things others don't. They are followed by a larger but still small group (16%) called early adopters. This is the group that sorts through the ideas of the innovators and choses the best ones. They are hard to move from their opinion once they settle on an idea. From there we proceed on to everyone else who adopt things at different rates. With this idea of in our mind lets go back to the statement of Dr. Grandin. "You can't sell them to the public at Barnes and Noble in New York and come out alive."

I would propose that Dr. Grandin is a classic "innovator". She realised animal handling needed to change long before anyone else. She determined what that change should look like and set her mind to it like the faces on Mt. Rushmore. If she will change her position now that it is set, I will be very amazed.

The people in line at Barnes and Noble, I would suggest, are more of the early adopter group. At least those that will see to it that you don't come out alive. There are, of course, all manner of people there in line. Controversy and hardship is what sells books and movies and Dr. Grandin can delivery the goods for both of these. So the line at Barnes and Noble represents 2% innovators + 16% early adopters = 18% of the population as far as those who are going to take action is concerned. Given this combustible mix of highly opinionated people I can see why you wouldn't sell gestation stalls and come out alive at Barnes and Noble in New York!

I am not trying to argue with Dr. Grandin's opinion of the needed demise of gestation stalls as a singular housing method. I am trying to point out that her statement about Barnes and Noble needs to be tempered with the idea that the other 82% of the population is trying to sort through these ideas and see which ones to adopt for themselves. If the housing method is banded by government or constitutional action, the 82% have just lost their right to chose. This seems terribly heavy handed and arrogant of the innovator and early adopters among us.

There is a fairly large part of the population, Mr. Arnot's chart suggests +50%, that don't know and don't care. They want safe healthy food that they can afford (period). Why should a few people feel they can take this choice away from the many? I just don't think that is reasonable.

On another note, why does this discussion of animal care come down to death threats so often? The Barnes and Noble comment is not entirely serious......I think? But there you have it. I am not sure. I know that death threats are very real to some of my friends who are attempting to stand up and push back on some of these issues. What is it in this very small group of activist people that makes them think the situation is so dire that they need to threaten people's lives. At some point they must lose their sense of proportion, and go from being innovators and early adopters to being zealots. To me this should inform the 82% that this idea doesn't need their full acceptance and support.

Thank you for your interest and thought.

recordings of the symposium are supposedly available at http://vet.osu.edu/preventive-medicine/animalwelfaresymposium

I have not yet been able to get this link to download the chart or Dr. Grandin's presentation but I am not the most gifted techy either. I raise pigs for a living.