Home The News Changes could cost Ohio's egg, hog industries

Compromise on animal welfare may hurt outside investment

By Ben Sutherly, Staff Writer Updated 1:59 AM Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ohio’s egg and hog industries, which together generated more than $1 billion in sales in 2008, recently negotiated compromises with the Humane Society of the United States on controversial housing practices for farm animals.

The agreement, reached behind closed doors in late June and brokered by Gov. Ted Strickland, headed off a potentially nasty battle leading up to the November elections that both sides said could have cost millions of dollars and bruised agriculture’s public image.

The deal, if implemented, isn’t expected to have much impact on what consumers pay for pork and eggs. But some fear it could discourage outside investment in Ohio’s hog and egg industries.

The recommendations, for example, throw another roadblock in front of state permits that would create Ohio’s largest single egg farm, Hi-Q Egg Products LLC, in Union County. The controversial project’s 6 million chickens might have increased the size of Ohio’s egg industry, the nation’s second largest, by more than 20 percent, though environmentalists, neighbors and some elected officials have claimed the farm’s environmental and community costs would outweigh its benefits.

The farm doesn’t yet have final permits, and a spokeswoman for the governor said it won’t get those permits in time to be grandfathered when the proposed rules take effect.

In negotiating a compromise, “everyone at the table understood that the Hi-Q project would not come to fruition under these rules,” spokeswoman Amanda Wurst said. A Hi-Q official said only that the agreement is being evaluated.

Under the compromise, the state’s Livestock Care Standards Board — created by voters last year through state Issue 2 — will be asked to end existing hog farms’ use of crates to house pregnant pigs by the end of 2025. New hog farms would be banned from using those “gestation crates” after this year.

The board also will be asked to place a moratorium on new egg farms that confine chickens in “battery cages.” Existing egg farms could continue to operate as they currently do, but could only expand caged egg production at existing facilities.

If voters had approved the HSUS’ ballot initiative in November’s elections, Tim Weaver said his Versailles-based Weaver Bros. Inc. would have gone out of business in six years rather than invest $125 million or more to revamp its large chicken houses for cage-free production. The compromise gives him more confidence his egg operation can be passed down to a fourth generation, he said.

“As a businessman, I have no problem responding to consumer demand and long-term, reasoned scientific research,” Weaver said. “It’s really difficult for me to run a business and respond to short-term, emotional, political arguments.”

Some local hog farmers, initially disappointed by the agreement, said it may have been the best option under the circumstances. The state’s few hundred hog farmers who house sows, or mother pigs, have 15 years to make the transition, but like egg farmers would have had only six years under a proposed ballot initiative for which the HSUS collected signatures prior to the compromise.

“We bought ourselves some time,” said Phillip Jordan, whose family raises hogs in Preble County near the Indiana border and has 950 sows.

Animal welfare compromise

To head off a showdown on the November ballot, farm groups, the Humane Society of the United States and Gov. Ted Strickland agreed at the end of June to make changes in how some animals on Ohio’s livestock and egg farms are housed. Here’s a look at some of the key changes will affect Ohio agribusiness:

EGGS

Now: Most commercial egg farms in Ohio are large enough to need environmental permits from the state Department of Agriculture, and must provide a certain amount of space per bird.

What’s changing: All new egg facilities in Ohio that use battery cages would be denied, but Ohio’s existing egg farms could continue to operate and could expand using current housing methods. Cage-free egg production would be one acceptable alternative.

HOGS

Now: Hog farmers may keep pregnant pigs in crates.

What’s changing: Hog farmers would have to quit keeping pregnant pigs in crates by the end of 2025.

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR THE INDUSTRIES

Ohio is the nation’s second largest producer of eggs and ninth largest hog producer. Combined, both industries in the state were worth more than $1 billion in 2008. The long-term impact of the new agreement on Ohio’s hog and egg industries remains unclear. But it could be another significant roadblock for Ohio’s largest proposed egg farm, a controversial Union County project that could house up to 6 million chickens and potentially have increased the size of Ohio’s egg industry by more than 20 percent.

 
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First Posting 25-03-2010 06:51:39 RoyRogers59