On Center Stage: Dairy groups boost humane handling, animal welfare outreach

January 15, 2009 11:30 AM

Dairy groups boost humane handling, animal welfare outreach


 Are you doing all you should to humanely handle your livestock?

The disturbing treatment of downer cows at a California processing facility last year and the resulting media attention have spurred several dairy organizations to boost their education and outreach to producers on the subject of animal welfare.

The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) is among those getting out a humane-handling message. In August, it mailed thousands of posters to producers via their dairy cooperatives. The bilingual posters are labeled "Top 10 Considerations for Culling and Transporting Dairy Animals to a Packing or Processing Facility.” They were created by NMPF, Dairy Management Inc. and the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (see sidebar).

The intense public focus earlier this year prompted NMPF to create the poster, says Chris Galen, NMPF senior vice president of communications. 

"We wanted to provide some science-based but basic information to dairy producers about the proper and improper ways to treat cattle when culling and transporting decisions are made,” Galen says. "We felt a barn-ready poster that would go to every producer would be the best demonstration of our belief that better education is the key to avoiding compromising incidents.”

As a next step in its animal care response, NMPF recently acquired the programs of the Dairy Quality Assurance Center in Iowa. NMPF plans to assimilate them into a new national animal welfare program that all entities in the dairy marketing chain can use. While acknowledging that many cooperatives and other dairy groups have launched animal welfare initiatives, NMPF sees a need "for a consistent, universal, verifiable program that is both practical and credible,” says CEO Jerry Kozak.

USDA has also addressed the animal care issue, proposing a complete ban on slaughtering cattle that become non-ambulatory after initial inspection by Food Safety and Inspection Service program personnel.

"To maintain consumer confidence in the food supply, eliminate further misunderstanding of the rule and, ultimately, to make a positive impact on the humane handling of cattle, I believe it is sound policy to simplify this matter by initiating a complete ban on the slaughter of downer cattle,” U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer announced in August.

USDA wants to finalize the proposal before the Bush administration ends on Jan. 20, says Daniel Engeljohn, deputy assistant administrator for USDA's Office of Policy, Program and Employee Development.

The Northwest Sustainable Dairy Program, which includes more than 800 dairy producers in Washington state and Oregon, is also finalizing animal welfare guidelines.

"If the dairy industry does not take this opportunity to evaluate some of these practices, it will only be a matter of time before our industry will be defending its practices in the legislative arena,” explains Kathryn Higgs, program director for the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association.

Consumer concerns are driving the growing interest in animal welfare, says Ken Olson, a consultant who has worked with Dairy Management Inc. and the American Dairy Science Association.

"Most consumers no longer have any direct knowledge of production agriculture,” Olson adds. "When you combine this with recent food safety challenges, the public has real questions as to what we do on the farm. As a result, farmers don't enjoy the level of trust that used to exist.”

Dairy producers have always had a strong ethic of providing good care for their animals, Olson says, but they need to let consumers know it.

"A primary reason for outreach to producers,” he says, "is to remind them they need to be proactive so that they are prepared to tell the public what they do and why they do it, and then verify that they do what they say.”

Bonus content:

Click here to read the Spanish version.

Click here for the Milk & Dairy Beef Quality Assurance Program Catalog of Materials.

Click here for Livestock Handling Practices for Livestock Markets.

Click here to download the National Dairy Animal Well-Being Initiative''s Principles and Guidelines.

Click here for a poster of the Top 10 Condsiderations for Culling and Transporting Dairy Animals to a Packing or Processing Facility.


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