Ohio voters will weigh in on the treatment of farm animals in a couple weeks when they vote yea or nay on Issue Two. It's a ballot initiative that wouild create a state livestock review board. Opponents say it's an effort to head off more rigorous oversight that would really protect animals. But, supporters say Issue Two would protect farming and the food supply from animal rights activists. To get a better sense of how farm animals are now treated, ideastream®'s David C. Barnett paid a visit to a Wayne County farm and Morning Edition host Eric Wellman spoke with OSU Animal Behaviorist, Candace Croney.
On the other side of the door is a barn full of female pigs. Before I meet "the girls", Dave Shoup gives me a quick terminology lesson.
DAVE SHOUP: They're called replacement "gilts" --- a gilt would be a female that's never had a litter of pigs.
SOUND: door opens to sounds of pigs UP & UNDER
The dozens of gilts in this barn are just a portion of the 3000 pigs that make up the Shoup family swine operation that covers almost 23 hundred acres in Wayne, Ashland and Stark counties. Most of the animals here are grouped in pens of 12 and, in a few days, Dave Shoup's crew will walk a male pig through the barn to try to get the ladies aroused.
DAVE SHOUP: We're going to take the boar through, and try to detect heat and see who's receptive that day. And the ones that we find, we'll move down here and inseminate them.
What happens to female pigs once they are inseminated is at the core of this major battle between the farm industry and animal welfare advocates. Most of the Shoup herd will spend their pregnancies roaming in indoor pens with other pigs, but some of them will be put into individualized stalls made from steel pipe that have just enough room for a 300 pound pig to move side to side a bit & back and forth a few feet. The floor is slatted so that animal waste can fall through. Dave Shoup says the enclosures protect pregnant females. But, these so-called "gestation crates" have been condemned by the Humane Society of the United States.
DAVE SHOUP: HSUS would probably tell you that this animal is so tightly confined for his entire life and can't do many things that he normally would do. But, these animals in these stalls have fresh feed, fresh water, and their waste materials are removed through the concrete slats. So, they have everything that they need.
A sow at Shoup's operation can spend as much as thirty days in the gestation crate; at many other farms though, the sows are confined for as much as three and a half months. A major lobbying effort by the Humane Society convinced California voters, last November, to ban gestation crates and other tight livestock enclosures. The group met with Ohio agribusiness officials this past February trying to persuade state farmers to support similar treatment measures here. Instead, the farmers set out to head-off any Humane Society effort in Ohio.
The farmers fear that would force them to spend millions retrofitting their operations. They got lawmakers to craft the ballot measure known as Issue 2 --- a constitutional amendment that would create an Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. This 13-member committee would regulate the treatment of farm animals... As we drive to another livestock barn, Dave Shoup says he's not afraid of state scrutiny.
DAVE SHOUP: We know that we'd much rather have it in their hands than some outside organization come in here and just raise the emotions of people who really don't know what goes on out here.
The Washington-based Humane Society argues that the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board would be stacked with members favorable to agribusiness who would prevent meaningful animal treatment reform.
The Shoup family has farmed this country for more than a century. The operation has tripled in size over the past decade or so. Shoup, who is also a veterinarian, suspects some people might consider him a factory farmer.
DAVE SHOUP: People use "factory farm" as a negative connotation to disrespect our industry, because they want the general public to think that, all you care about is making money. You don't care about the animals, you don't care about the environment, your goal is to put pigs through what ever is needed, in order to kick out more pigs on the other side. Well, farms don't survive doing that. If you're mean to them, if you're crowding them, then they don't eat, they don't come in heat, they don't breed, they don't have good litters.
SOUND: Soft squeal of piglets and the snorts of their mothers
As we step into a birthing barn, it's apparent that the Shoups have animal husbandry down to a science. There are rows of what's known as "farrowing stalls", where mothers lie on their sides, as suckling newborns get their nutrition under the warmth of a heat lamp.
DAVE SHOUP: Each sow gives birth to anywhere from 11-13 pigs. We actually induce these sows to farrow at a certain time --- just like you can induce a woman to have a child the next day, we can induce these one afternoon to farrow the next afternoon.
SOUND: truck door slams…engine starts…
DCB: Most every yard along these rural roads has a "Vote for Issue 2" sign on it. Shoup says that farmers, by their very nature, are independents who don't like being told what to do.
DAVE SHOUP: Years ago, the family farm was just kind of left alone; there weren't many regulations for it. As long as the product you produced was wholesome, nobody seemed to care. Now, we've got people looking over our shoulders all the time.
Still, Dave Shoup figures that an Ohio-based animal care standards board would weed out a few bad apples in the state and keep everybody honest. But, what isn't clear is: if you build it into the constitution, will there be enough legislative oversight to keep the Standards Board honest?