No one, least of all dairy producers, wants more regulation—particularly when it involves how they care for their animals.
Depending on your ZIP code, animal welfare regulation has become, or will soon become, a fact of life. So you have a choice: You can have laws handed to you—often in the form of ballot initiatives—or you can participate in the process.
Consider two states, says Janice Swanson, director of animal welfare with the Department of Animal Science at Michigan State University.
California passed a non-negotiable ballot initiative regulating gestating sows and veal calves and banning caged laying hens. The regulations have a six-year phase-in. Violations are a criminal offense.
Michigan passed animal legislation through its state legislature, with producers at the table. Gestating sows, veal calves and laying hens are regulated, but there’s a 10-year phase-in (veal excepted), hens can be caged provided they have 1 sq. ft. of space and violations are a civil offense.
“Ballot initiatives can precipitate polarizing public debate based on incomplete information,” Swanson says. Michigan’s approach, based on common sense with all parties at the table, is obviously better.
Animal welfare proponents do their homework, and they do it well. They use focus groups and test marketing to see which of their messages motivates people to act. The driver is to get people to vote for the legislation, not whether the messages are accurate or complete.
For producers, the choice is not whether they will be regulated, but how they will be regulated. Swanson says regulations produce sustainable results when:
- they are legislated, not enacted through stringent ballot initiatives.
- a body of experts, including producers and animal scientists, is involved.
- they are realistically interpreted and implemented.
The result is a net improvement to animal welfare.