FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission, which is charged with drafting new regulations on how farm animals should be treated in the state, heard from farmers and animal activists Monday on proposed rules.
Although cattle, pork and dairy farmers urged the panel to stick to science and avoid emotion, it was the farmers who teared up as they described their dedication to treating farm animals right.
None of the farmers specifically addressed why they think practices such as confining pregnant sows to gestation crates or docking dairy cows' tails are necessary.
Both practices, along with removing beaks without anesthesia, confining laying hens to battery crates and use of methods of euthanasia not approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association, were criticized as inhumane by animal welfare groups including the Humane Society of the United States.
"Misinformation tugs at folks' heartstrings," said Caleb Ragland, a hog farmer from Hodgenville, who said his pigs are happier and healthier when separated from each other in gestation stalls.
He said that pigs often bite each other, and the stalls protect them.
But Matt Dominguez, a Humane Society of the U.S. spokesman, said the practice amounts to solitary confinement for very social animals. "We're asking that they be allowed to turn around and extend their limbs. ... If this were your dog or your cat, you'd be subject to animal-cruelty charges," Dominguez said.
Joey Long of the Kentucky Poultry Producers said they support the standards as they have been circulated in draft form. Poultry farms, particularly those that use battery cages to warehouse hens, say modern factory-farm practices are necessary to provide the volume of eggs needed today.
"The impact to customers on cost of food and quality should not be ignored in any discussion of standards," Long told the panel.
But Marianne Fox of Kentuckians Vote for Animals said, "Consumers in general increasingly favor humane treatment of animals."
They also are willing to pay higher prices for cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef, she said.
Tiffany Ray of the Louisville Vegetarians Club said the proposed standards set the bar too low. "Seems like these are saying, 'This is what we've always done,' without regard to science," Ray said.
Groups including the Kentucky Farm Bureau, the Kentucky Cattlemen's Association and Kentucky Pork Producers also expressed support for "science-based" decisions on care standards.
"We will hang our hat on science-based facts and research," said Mark Haney, president of the state Farm Bureau.
The care standards commission must submit regulations to the Kentucky Board of Agriculture, which will draft them to go through the normal regulatory process, including public and legislative hearings.
Dr. Robert Stout, state veterinarian and chairman of the commission, said Monday the care standards panel probably would not meet again until September, after the state fair, Aug. 16 to 26.