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What Do We Do About The .01 Percent Of Producers Who Actually Abuse Animals?

This week in Colorado we had an undercover video [3] released by the group Compassion Over Killing. Initially, many of us as producers instinctively question these type of videos because in the past, we have seen them concocted, pieced together and generally misrepresented [4].

This, however, was the second time in Colorado in the last couple of years that such a video has emerged in which the animal abuse appears to be real. Certainly all of the cattle organizations, agricultural groups, and state agencies responded appropriately by condemning the abuse [5] and calling for investigation and enforcement of the laws that were broken. 

The challenge for agriculture is that Colorado has become largely an urban state. In fact, six rural Colorado counties recently voted to secede from the state, in part because Colorado has evolved to the point where agriculture and energy production [6] are no longer viewed as a positive, nor have a voice in state or local government.

Colorado agriculture is currently engaged in almost annual negotiations with the Humane Society of the United States [7] (HSUS), which identifies an agricultural practice it wants eliminated, with the promise to use the referendum process if the industry doesn’t act. The reality is that the odds are with HSUS at the ballot box, given the disparity in financial resources and an urban majority of voters.

 

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This year, the issue is tail-docking, a practice the industry has already largely eliminated. But a few continue to utilize the practice and there is nothing legislatively that prevents it. HSUS [9] views this as low-hanging fruit. The industry frets about the “slippery slope” concept, while realizing tail-docking is a practice perhaps not worthy of a heated defense. The problem is that we know the demands will keep coming, and we’ll eventually be faced with losing production practices that are backed by sound science [10], and benefit both animals and producers, but won’t survive a challenge at the ballot box.

The other video incident in Colorado involved a producer who allowed some of his animals to starve and failed to uphold basic animal husbandry standards. Again, what was shown is neither typical nor cultural; it is an anomaly in every sense. I do not know the individual but I surmise that a series of grave management and financial mistakes led to a snowball effect that consumed this person. There is nothing logical about failing to take care of your animals [11], not only from an ethical standpoint, but financial as well.  

The most recent video fits into this category as well; it shows an anomaly that makes no sense and no one would condone. It is just an example of inherently flawed humans that we see all the time in many areas.

While there is probably no way to ever identify or stop these rare occurrences from happening, education and surveillance are important. These 0.1% outlier incidents are something we will have to deal with, but with education and cultural pressure from within, hopefully the frequency will continue to decline. Relative to broader issues like tail docking, the industry needs to step up and eliminate these practices because we can’t waste our limited political capital defending a practice that is destined to be eliminated regardless.

 

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