Issues in welfare of cattle | TSLN.com

Issues in welfare of cattle

Amanda Nolz

Photo by Amanda Nolz"The point is, animal welfare is more important than performance, profit or winning cattle shows or rodeo events," said J.K. Shearer, DVM, MS from Iowa State University.

It’s no secret that the beef industry has it’s share of problems and challenges. Economic viability, environmental concerns, food safety and quality, immigration issues and animal welfare are all hot topics keeping cattle producers on their toes. However, of these many challenges, animal welfare is the one to keep an eye on, said J.K. Shearer, DVM, MS, and professor of veterinary medicine at Iowa State University (ISU).

Animal welfare is a word that has been stolen by activists, yet Shearer said this term is followed closely by America’s ranchers today. He noted that before producers can understand the challenges in animal welfare, they must first understand the history behind the battle.

“The animal welfare debate isn’t a new one,” admitted Shearer, in his presentation given at the 2010 South Dakota Veterinary Medicine Association’s (SDVMA) annual meeting held Aug. 8-10, 2010 in Sioux Falls, SD. “The earliest evidence dates back to ancient Greece, where dogs were kept as companions by people of all social classes. Upon the death of these pets, they even had grave stones with carefully written epitomes.”

Aside from a natural inclination to own pets, he said many radical books were published in the 1700s with views on animal welfare. Yet, it was the decades following World War II that lead up to today’s debate on animal welfare.

“In the decades following World War II, farm animal production became industrialized,” explained Shearer. “We adopted practices using tiers of cages for laying hens, gestation stalls for farrowing hogs and veal crates for dairy bull calves. The European Union had a lot of resistance to these practices in the 1990s, and that trend is now reaching the United States.”

For example, sow gestation crates were banned through ballot initiatives in Florida in 2002, Arizona in 2006, Oregon in 2007 and Colorado in 2008. Voters also decided to veto the use of veal crates in Arizona in 2006 and Colorado in 2008. Tail docking was banned in California in 2009. The most memorable, though, could well be Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which passed in California in 2008 after a long, hard, costly fight from agriculture groups. Shearer explained that while voters don’t necessarily understand the economic repercussions of their votes, it’s animal cruelty videos that push their decisions in a certain direction.

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“Videos of livestock abuse have been captured by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and other activist groups, and I think we can all agree that they are disturbing and troublesome videos,” said Shearer. “These events and others similar to these show the world that the livestock industry is either unable to or unwilling to police itself. We have got to be accountable and rid the bad apples.”

It’s no secret that the beef industry has it’s share of problems and challenges. Economic viability, environmental concerns, food safety and quality, immigration issues and animal welfare are all hot topics keeping cattle producers on their toes. However, of these many challenges, animal welfare is the one to keep an eye on, said J.K. Shearer, DVM, MS, and professor of veterinary medicine at Iowa State University (ISU).

Animal welfare is a word that has been stolen by activists, yet Shearer said this term is followed closely by America’s ranchers today. He noted that before producers can understand the challenges in animal welfare, they must first understand the history behind the battle.

“The animal welfare debate isn’t a new one,” admitted Shearer, in his presentation given at the 2010 South Dakota Veterinary Medicine Association’s (SDVMA) annual meeting held Aug. 8-10, 2010 in Sioux Falls, SD. “The earliest evidence dates back to ancient Greece, where dogs were kept as companions by people of all social classes. Upon the death of these pets, they even had grave stones with carefully written epitomes.”

Aside from a natural inclination to own pets, he said many radical books were published in the 1700s with views on animal welfare. Yet, it was the decades following World War II that lead up to today’s debate on animal welfare.

“In the decades following World War II, farm animal production became industrialized,” explained Shearer. “We adopted practices using tiers of cages for laying hens, gestation stalls for farrowing hogs and veal crates for dairy bull calves. The European Union had a lot of resistance to these practices in the 1990s, and that trend is now reaching the United States.”

For example, sow gestation crates were banned through ballot initiatives in Florida in 2002, Arizona in 2006, Oregon in 2007 and Colorado in 2008. Voters also decided to veto the use of veal crates in Arizona in 2006 and Colorado in 2008. Tail docking was banned in California in 2009. The most memorable, though, could well be Proposition 2, the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, which passed in California in 2008 after a long, hard, costly fight from agriculture groups. Shearer explained that while voters don’t necessarily understand the economic repercussions of their votes, it’s animal cruelty videos that push their decisions in a certain direction.

“Videos of livestock abuse have been captured by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and other activist groups, and I think we can all agree that they are disturbing and troublesome videos,” said Shearer. “These events and others similar to these show the world that the livestock industry is either unable to or unwilling to police itself. We have got to be accountable and rid the bad apples.”

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