Kentucky's Livestock Care Standards Commission will meet next week to look at a draft of potential rules for how farm animals should be treated.
But a preliminary version of the standards already has drawn criticism from the Humane Society of the United States, which expressed concern that controversial practices such as tail docking and veal crates might win approval.
"Confining calves in veal crates and cutting dairy cows' tails off without pain killers are inhumane and archaic practices, ones that should be relegated to the history books," said Matt Dominguez, the Humane Society's public policy manager for farm animal protection. He also said the group "finds it unacceptable that the commission, created to set standards that care for the well-being of farm animals, is instead attempting to codify into law two of the most egregious forms of farm animal cruelty."
Dominguez said the welfare group also is concerned that the commission is moving too quickly, without enough time for public input.
In September, the Humane Society and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association sent letters expressing concern that the commission position appeared to run counter to mainstream veterinary opinion and away from the direction states such as Ohio are taking.
The Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board is phasing out tail docking and veal crates.
Dr. Robert Stout, state veterinarian and chairman of the care standards commission, said Wednesday that the drafts were still very fluid, particularly the species-specific sections, and he anticipates there might be many revisions at the Oct. 27 meeting.
The commission as a whole has yet to see a draft, and the commission's scientific review group has yet to weigh in on specific rules, he said.
"Some of those issues may be addressed," Stout said of the Humane Society concerns. Several farm sectors are moving away from practices that have drawn fire, such as the use of small battery cages for laying hens.
Stout said he did not know how many of the approximately 900 dairies in the state use tail docking in an attempt to control manure contamination. "I believe in many cases, it is common, but do all do it? No," he said.
Veal production, which is rare in the state, will be scrutinized from a scientific perspective, he said.
"I think the commission feels strongly that we want to approach this from a positive point of view," he said. "Kentucky producers by and large do a good job. ... Farmers make a living by doing a good job. Public opinion a lot of times differs from actual agricultural practice."
Stout said he hoped the commission would be able to consider a firm version of the regulations in November. If approved, the rules would go to the state Board of Agriculture, chaired by the agriculture commissioner, which could approve them or send them back for reconsideration. Once the rules are approved, they must be drafted into regulations, which will be open to public comment.
"It's much, much more important that we get this done right than to hurry it through," Stout said. "We're under no express time line to get this done."