Animal Welfare: Healthy livestock, poultry in industries’ best interest

 Livestock and poultry production is an important and vital part of our agriculture economy. U.S. livestock and poultry farmers produce the safest, healthiest meat and poultry products in the world. The welfare of these animals is of utmost importance to those who produce beef, pork and chicken products — it has to be.

Healthy hogs, cows and chickens are vital to producers’ bottom lines. America’s livestock and poultry producers know that their livelihoods depend upon the welfare of their animals, and are committed to raising them humanely. I know the farmers in my Ohio district have that dedication.

For decades, U.S. food animal producers have responsibly supplied our families and the world with the highest quality, safest, most nutritious and affordable meat and poultry products. Now, they are coming under increasing criticism from Washington lobbyists, activists, and some members of the U.S. Congress.

Unfortunately, the propaganda being proffered by these activists is making its way into the mainstream media. Consumers are more aware than ever about the issues of food safety, animal well-being, the environment and public health. Some organizations are taking advantage of consumer concerns on food safety to further their attacks on our agricultural industry.

Last year, voters in California approved Proposition 2, which bans the use of certain types of stalls for sows and cages for laying hens. Passage of this proposition followed the approval of other ballot initiatives in Arizona and Florida. Passage of these initiatives was made possible by a wealth of misinformation that played on the public’s lack of knowledge about modern livestock and poultry production practices. Now, some groups are considering targeting my home state of Ohio.

According to a report by Luther Tweeten, emeritus chaired professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at the Ohio State University, the proposed ballot initiative in Ohio would increase food costs and decrease jobs.

Professor Tweeten’s report examined who stood to gain and lose if Proposition 2-style regulations were adopted in Ohio. He concluded that “Ohio would lose … Ohio’s: laying hen enterprise … would be decimated … Ohio’s loss from Prop 2-type legislation would total 7,928 jobs and associated income.” But, the losses would not stop with livestock producers. Ohio’s corn and soybean producers, who produce the vast majority of feed for poultry and livestock, would experience an “economic setback.”

All of the livestock and poultry industries have developed programs that promote animal well-being. In my home state, the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) has been a leader in opening a dialogue between farmers and the public through its Center for Food and Animal Issues. This year the OFBF supports a ballot initiative to amend the Ohio Constitution to create the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board. The board will oversee decisions on how farm animals are treated.

The pork industry has also been a leader in animal welfare. In 1989, it implemented its Pork Quality Assurance program, which recently was updated to include an on-farm assessment. It educates and trains producers in practices that promote food safety and animal well-being. The industry adopted a Truckers Quality Assurance program to educate those who move and transport hogs in proper care and handling methods. And, it also has implemented the “Take Care — Use Antibiotics Responsibly” program that promotes judicious use of animal health products.

The Ohio Cattleman’s Association has implemented programs to help producers achieve the highest standards of quality and welfare. These standards meet or exceed the standards set by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association guidelines. It also provides assistance through certified veterinarians, Ohio State University Extension, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture to assist its members.

Ohio farmers, and farmers all across the country, raise their poultry and livestock consistent with findings of the latest research conducted by thousands of land grant university scientists — research conducted by experts at the Ohio State University, Iowa State University, Kansas State University, the University of Florida and others. These scientists, not professional lobbyists, should be dictating the discussion on animal welfare.

The livestock and poultry producers from my district and state are hard-working, intelligent business people who know the welfare of their animals is of paramount importance. They are diligent about the health and welfare of animals — not only for their bottom line and the safety of consumers, but because it is the right thing to do.

If you choose not to eat meat that is, of course, your right. But we must not allow some well-intentioned activists to play with public misconceptions to treat animals that are grown for slaughter as we would treat our pets. We should instead focus on how we can make our food supply the healthiest, most nutrient-rich food supply in the world.

Schmidt is ranking member of the Horticulture and Organic Agriculture Committee in the House Agriculture Committee.