Kentucky ag board's new rules a backward step on animal welfare

Pam Rogers is the Kentucky state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Pam Rogers is the Kentucky state director for the Humane Society of the United States.

The recent decision by the Kentucky Board of Agriculture to approve insufficient standards for farm animal welfare is baffling in light of scientific research and consumer trends.

The debate also demonstrates a misunderstanding of The Humane Society of the United States, which was formed in 1954 to take on the root causes of animal cruelty and to complement the work of local organizations. The HSUS has been America's mainstream voice for animals for decades, despite the efforts of corporate front groups to run a smear campaign against us on behalf of animal abusers.

According to an American Farm Bureau poll, 95 percent of Americans want farm animals to be well cared for, which is the guiding principle of the HSUS. Unfortunately, the Kentucky Board of Agriculture's recently approved standards do not match up with what consumers are looking for in the marketplace.

To cite one example, Kentucky's standards would allow the routine tail docking of dairy cows — the painful practice of cutting off the cow's tail, often without anesthesia. Tail docking is opposed by the National Milk Producers Federation and the American Veterinary Medical Association, and has been banned in California, Ohio, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Confining breeding pigs in small gestation crates, leaving them no room to turn around or engage in natural behaviors, is also permitted under Kentucky's new standard. Major national corporations like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, Safeway, Target, General Mills, Denny's, Costco and Heinz are among the food companies that have announced they are moving to eliminate suppliers who use gestation crates.

Smithfield Foods has announced its commitment to end the use of gestation crates in all of its owned operations, and Cargill has already converted half of its production out of gestation crates.

Renowned animal welfare scientist and pork industry advisor Temple Grandin has said: "Confining an animal for most of its life in a box in which it is not able to turn around does not provide a decent life."

Grandin states, "We've got to treat animals right, and the gestation stalls have got to go."

To improve the welfare of egg-laying hens, the HSUS is working with the egg industry to support federal legislation to implement improved housing systems, to create a level playing field for producers, improve animal welfare and ensure a stable and secure future for egg farmers.

With increasing consumer demand for more humane options, farmers are responding. Kentucky's agriculture leaders could have taken steps in the right direction; instead they've moved the state backward by codifying practices found primarily in industrial agriculture.

By contrast, the HSUS promotes family farmers and independent ranchers who answer to higher animal welfare standards. We formed state agriculture councils, consisting of dedicated farmers and ranchers who are stewards of the animals and the land. Council members provide advice and guidance to the HSUS and assist other traditional family farmers who want to switch to more humane practices.

The HSUS wants to help family farmers connect with consumers who want to know where their food comes from and how the animals were raised, as part of our efforts to promote more humane and sustainable agriculture.

That's not the whole story of the HSUS, of course. We provided direct care for more animals — more than 100,000 in 2012 alone — than any other animal welfare organization.

We also support local animal shelters and rescue groups. We're there to aid shelters when natural disasters and cruelty cases overwhelm their capacity to respond, such as when tornadoes hit Kentucky last year — and we are partners in the nation's most ambitious projects to reduce pet overpopulation.

We fight puppy mills, animal fighting, horse soring, poaching, Canada's commercial seal slaughter and other wildlife abuses, to prevent cruelty before animals are made to suffer. The HSUS is rated a four-star charity by Charity Navigator, approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the No. 1 high-impact animal protection group and named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities.

Our stake in Kentucky is simple: a better shake for animals. People want it and animals deserve it.

At issue: March 28 Herald-Leader article, "Ag board OKs animal care standards despite objections; humane society says consumers won't tolerate 'animal cruelty'"

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader