Should the Govt Become Involved in Animal Welfare?

ANALYSIS - There are an increasing numbers of cases in the US, where the public is challenging customary husbandry practices, writes Charlotte Johnston, TheCattleSite editor.
calendar icon 18 June 2012
clock icon 3 minute read

What is customary practice?

In the majority of animal cruelty laws there are exemptions for customary agricultural practices.

Speaking at the 5th Boehringer Ingelheim Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-Being, Dr Suzanne Millman from Iowa State University, presented a case where it was questioned whether the tail docking and disbudding of calves' horns should be carried out without anesthesia.

These practices, she said, are not commonly carried out by a veterinarian. In the majority of casesm the farmer will do both themselves, and whilst there is best practice guidance, there are no laws to dictate how it is done.

There are also limitations on providing pain relief for these procedures. Often the drugs needed to provide pain relief must be prescribed by a veterinarian, which adds an extra cost to a regular procedure.

On top of this, in the US there are no drugs approved for pain management in cattle, except for local anesthetic, due to a different drug approval process.

Drugs such as meloxicam can be used, but only for a clinical condition, and as Dr Millman pointed out, disbudding is not a clinical condition but a routine one.

This particular case, that Dr Millman presented, was that of an undercover activist video which showed the tail docking and disbudding of calves. As is common practice in North America this was done without anesthesia.

The case, Dr Millman explained, was picked up and brought forward by a legislator in the state of New York, who took it to court arguing that the methods used were apparent violations of AGM 353 in that they constitute torture to the animals and result in unjustifiable injury.

Experts who viewed the case agreed that no medications were given to the animals and asserted that pain medications should have been used.

So whilst standard practice now is that pain medication is not used, the discussions are going up a level in terms of legislation, she said.

"The public has lost faith with the agricultural industry in its ability to address and provide the relevant information on animal welfare."
Dr Suzanne Millman

Public attitudes to animal welfare

Despite animal welfare actually ranking relatively low compared to other societal concerns, such as food safety and poverty, when asked specifically, there is a concern for welfare, Dr Millman said.

A study published in 2010 saw the majority of consumers study disagree with the following statement: "Low meat prices are more important than the well-being of farm animals".

The study also highlighted that the majority of consumers would like the government to take an active role in promoting farm animal welfare.

Dr Millman said that the results of this study suggest that the public has lost faith with the agricultural industry in its ability to address and provide the relevant information on animal welfare.

Federal Mandate on Animal Agriculture

A proposed amendment to the 2012 Farm Bill would mandate on-farm production practices for poultry producers.

Amending the Farm Bill would codify an agreement entered into by the Humane Society of the United States and the United Egg Producers to seek federal legislation to mandate egg production practices, in particular by setting a minimum space size per hen.

Both the pig and cattle industry have expressed strong opposition to such a bill, with the National Pork Producers Council calling it the "farm takeover bill". Their chief concern is allowing an animal activist group to create policy that will ultimately dictate how producers farm livestock.

Whilst the current legislation and proposals to the Farm Bill only refer to poultry layers, there are concerns that it would set a federal standard that could be then used for regulating other animal agriculture sectors.

One final concern, that may relate more to beef production than other animal agriculture.

One type of production practice does not fit all.

Different methods, conditions on farm, facilities available, competence of staff etc all play a role in determining on-farm production practices.

Charlotte Johnston, Editor

Charlotte Johnston - Editor

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