Veterinarians Call for Solutions to Production Animal Cruelty!
The majority of us don’t think about where our meat, dairy and eggs are produced. But, on occasion, undercover videos surface, highlighting horrible abuses and cruelty on production animal farms. But is that indicative of normal practices, or hyped for shock effect or fund raising? What’s the true reality here?
By: Dr. Jim Humphries, President, Veterinary News Network
The images on the video were gruesome, grown men beating dairy calves with pickaxes and claw hammers. Nathan Runkle, Executive Director and founder of Mercy for Animals (MFA), an animal rights organization that calls for a vegan lifestyle says “(we) have documented shocking abuse, without exception, each time we’ve entered one of these facilities”.
Others had similar reactions to MFA’s most recent undercover video release. “After 20 seconds of video, I had to turn it off,” says Dr. Jim Humphries, President of the Veterinary News Network (VNN). “I was sickened by what I saw and felt anger and disgust towards the individuals and the company that allowed this cruelty to happen.”
“I have been a veterinarian for 35 years and this video in no way represents the vast majority of good livestock producers in this country. Remember this is animal abuse and cruelty, and should not be confused with the humane production practices we see on the majority of farms today.”
Dr. Bernard Rollin, Distinguished Professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University said, “This incident is one of the worst I have ever seen in 35 years animal work. Whereas many abuse situations involve ignorance or greed, this case demonstrates genuine sadistic heartless cruelty. We must show the world that such behavior cannot be excused or tolerated and provide practical solutions.”
So…who’s right? Is this cruelty commonplace or do these videos reflect aberrant situations? More importantly, what can be done to make sure our animals, who provide so much for us, are treated humanely? Positive solutions, in the form of excellent training programs do exist - but they must be taken seriously and more universally used.
Dr. Daniel Thomson, a highly respected expert in production animal medicine at Kansas State University has the solution, “Beef and dairy producers and veterinarians work tirelessly as a team to provide humane care for cattle across the United States. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), working with veterinary and animal science experts, have created and published humane euthanasia guidelines that expressly forbid bludgeoning as a form of euthanasia for calves.” Dr. Thomson adds, “The utilization of the AABP guidelines, plus training, on-farm or on-line, could have stopped this abuse from happening.”
Production animal agriculture in the United States fills the huge demand for plentiful, healthy and safe animal protein. More than 96% of the US population eats meat and dairy products routinely. “Make no mistake, this is not about vegetarianism,” says Humphries, “and it should not be about fund-raising for national groups who want to remove food animals from our lives. It’s about the humane and compassionate management of production animals.”
Producers, working with Doctors of Veterinary Medicine, provide important supplies of meat, eggs and dairy products for the world. In the case of sick or “down” animals, expert and compassionate euthanasia guidelines are in place to insure the most humane death possible. The veterinarian must be an essential partner in production. A crucial part of the achieving this goal is training for producers and workers. This insures both safety and humane care for these animals.
“When a farmer or rancher takes the time to educate himself and his production team, he shows a great deal of responsibility,” says Dr. Dan Posey, Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “This, in turn has a positive impact on the care of his animals as well as the health of his business.” Dr. Posey added “livestock producers who have taken the necessary steps to understand proper animal handling and care deeply value their partnerships with veterinarians. They know that an on-going relationship is critical for the humane treatment of all their animals. The veterinarian can then fulfill his or her role as the guardian of the animal’s health and welfare.”
It is time for existing animal welfare programs to be used fully. These programs provide animal workers with essential, bi-lingual information for the management and humane care of livestock. Examples include the Animal Care Training system through the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University (www.AnimalCareTraining.org) and farm level welfare assessment tools such as the National Dairy’s Farmers Assuring Responsible Management (FARM) program (www.NationalDairyFarm.com) and the Beef Quality Assurance Feedlot Self-Assessment tools (www.BQA.org).
While condemnations and references to animal welfare guidelines are a common reaction to such cases, veterinarians need to go a step further, as a production partner, and become part of the solution. The real-world solution is training of all workers and having a veterinarian as a partner in production. If voluntary training is not adequate, then perhaps it is time to consider implementing compulsory education and training.