Here is a little experiment. Type the phrase “animal care dairy” into your favorite search engine. Then open a second tab in your browser and type the phrase “animal cruelty dairy.” Then compare the two lists of results. One will have links to articles about how dairy farmers are caring for their animals and how animal care is a top priority for most producers. The other list will be filled with links to radical animal rights groups claiming that dairy farmers abuse their animals regularly and that the animals live in horrible conditions. Rarely do the animal rights groups talk about animal care; their focus is on abuse because that is a more effective fundraising tool. Dairy farmers focus more on care and rarely use the term abuse because the term and the concept are so abhorrent to them. On my query there were 4,140,000 results on the animal cruelty page and 12,200,000 on the animal care page. This would indicate that there are a lot more people talking about animal care than animal cruelty.
But dairy farmers are doing more than just talking about animal care. A recent report indicated that the majority are practicing animal care every day on their farms. Dairy farmers nationwide continue to demonstrate widespread adoption of industry standards that assure high-quality care for their animals, according to a report released last week by the National Milk Producers Federation. The summary report, issued annually, quantifies practices by farmers participating in the industry’s responsible care program, known as the National Dairy FARM Program (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management). The report quantifies the results of more than 12,000 dairy farm evaluations conducted during the previous three years. All the data collected by second-party evaluators who visit each of those farms is catalogued and provides a baseline of the breadth of adoption of the program’s care practices. The report found nearly 95 percent of farms enrolled in the program train their employees to properly move animals that cannot walk and more than 98 percent train employees to handle calves with a minimum of stress.
Animal rights groups assert that animal abuse occurs regularly on most farms, but the evidence does not support that allegation. Overall, according to the report, participation in the FARM Program increased to more than three-quarters of the nation’s milk supply, up five percentage points from the previous year. In addition, 99 percent of farms observe animals daily to identify health issues for early treatment; 93 percent develop protocols with veterinarians for dealing with common diseases, calving, and animals with special needs; and 92 percent train workers to recognize the need for animals to be euthanized.
Another myth being perpetrated by critics of animal agriculture is that livestock farmers regularly pump animals full of antibiotics. Yet, the fact is that responsible drug use by farmers is advocated and practiced by the majority of operations. NMPF released the new 2015 edition of its safe use manual for antibiotics and other animal drugs. The Milk and Dairy Beef Drug Residue Prevention Manual permits producers to quickly review those antibiotics approved for use with dairy animals. It can also be used to educate farm managers in how to avoid drug residues in milk and meat. The manual, available online, is updated annually. “Today, the use of antibiotics and other drugs in livestock is more intently scrutinized than ever,” said Jamie Jonker, NMPF’s vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs. “To maintain consumer confidence, we must show we are using these medicines properly, legally, and judiciously. This manual shows dairy farmers’ commitment to just that.”
The shrill cries of animal cruelty have given consumers an unrealistic view of animal agriculture. While there are, and will continue to be, isolated cases of abuse on farms, the evidence is that most farms treat their animals with care, compassion, and best management practices. If the retailers, who are so quick to put up signs in the dairy and meat case stating their these products are hormone free, would also put up signs that stated “produced by healthy and cared for animals,” consumers might begin to get a more complete and accurate picture of animal care on US farms.
By Gary Truitt