COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The implementation of animal welfare legislation, similar to what was passed in California, would have a profound economic impact on Ohio's agriculture industry, negatively rippling through segments of livestock and field crop production, says an Ohio State University agricultural economist.



Luther Tweeten, professor emeritus of agricultural trade and policy in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics, said that efforts by the Humane Society of the United States to push legislation in Ohio similar to California's Proposition 2 would result in decreased production and lost jobs, specifically within Ohio's laying hen industry, which the animal welfare legislation would specifically target.



California's Proposition 2, passed last year, mandates that as of January 1, 2015, it shall be a misdemeanor for any person to confine a pregnant pig, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen in a manner not allowing the animal to turn around freely, stand up, lie down, and fully extend its limbs.



"If Ohio regulates its laying hen cages and passes substantial requirements for larger cages, barn raising, or free-range, and other neighboring states do not follow suit, what would happen is that Ohio producers would likely go out of business because they can't compete. The end result is that we'd lose much of our poultry production and other states would gain from it," said Tweeten.



Consumers would likely see little change in prices at the grocery store, said Tweeten, but animal welfare practices would likely remain unaffected.



"Our consumers wouldn't experience a lot of loss because they could buy eggs as cheaply from other states as they currently can from Ohio, and there would be no change in animal welfare because the eggs would be produced under the current practices elsewhere," said Tweeten. "It just makes Ohio worse off from an economic standpoint."



According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Ohio ranks second in the nation in both laying hen and egg production, with a combined estimated value of over $650 million in 2008. In 2007, Ohio supplied nearly 8 percent of the nation's eggs.



If Proposition 2-type legislation were to pass in Ohio, Tweeten estimates that Ohio poultry producers would likely see a 20-percent increase in costs for larger cages, a 26-percent increase in costs for raising hens in barns, and a 45-percent increase in costs for free-range poultry production. In addition, he suggests that nearly 8,000 jobs in the poultry industry alone would be lost.



In addition, other segments of the agriculture industry, such as field crop production, would be impacted.



"Diminished animal agriculture means diminished crop production in Ohio. Less demand for livestock means less demand for corn and soybeans," said Tweeten. "The poultry industry consumes more corn and soybean meal than any other livestock enterprise. It's big business."



Tweeten stresses that consumer education is important to understanding the tradeoffs between animal welfare regulations and the impacts such regulations would have on Ohio's agriculture industry and overall economic situation.



"Anybody would like more freedom and more room, but you have to understand that the animal welfare issues from a scientific standpoint aren't really clear. When we measure all of the factors that go into stress, researchers can't seem to find that confinement has a big effect on the performance of the animal," said Tweeten. "So the arguments have gone from a scientific objective standpoint to an ethical viewpoint. From that perspective, however, you have to be aware of the tradeoffs between ethics and objectivity."



For example, animal welfare legislation would impact Ohio while providing big economic advantages for other states not bound by such regulations, with few changes to animal welfare practices, said Tweeten. In addition, the implementation of national animal welfare legislation would open the doors to more international imports of eggs from countries whose animal welfare practices may be below United States standards.



"It's interesting that the economics are more clear than the animal welfare implications. It's an effort that is poorly thought through and if voters are not informed, they could make a serious mistake," said Tweeten. "Ohio would be shooting itself in the foot if such regulations were to be implemented."



Tweeten has outlined his research in the document, "The Economics of Animal Welfare Regulations Proposed for Ohio."



SOURCE: Ohio State.