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Activists call animal-care rules too lax

by 5m Editor
17 October 2007, at 10:44am

NEW JERSEY - The castration issue is central to a debate over New Jersey‘s first-in-the-nation standards for humane care of farm animals. While farming experts defend the standards, animal rights activists say the rules actually do more to protect farmers than their livestock.

The debate will be decided by the New Jersey Supreme Court, which will hear an appeal from animal rights groups who sued the state Department of Agriculture over its regulations.

Animal rights activists say they fear other states will look at New Jersey‘s guidelines as they adopt their own farm animal standards.

Larry Katz, chair of Rutger University Department of Animal Sciences, defends the standards. He said the guidelines are minimums — not recommended best practices — to give animal cruelty officers firm, science-based guidelines on who should be prosecuted in animal abuse cases.

Dr. Nancy Halpern, the state veterinarian, said many of the practices in question are rare or never used in New Jersey and some are in decline everywhere. She said the goal was to be comprehensive — and to stop animal rights activists from "harassing" farmers over practices that don‘t harm animals.

Farming industry experts say there are good reasons for practices like this, including boosting productivity, holding down costs, protecting animals from predators, ensuring each gets adequate food and improving sanitation.

Animal rights groups point out that most of the consumer‘s food costs go for packaging, transportation and marketing, while the farmer receives 25 percent of the price or less. According to a 2005 report in the Journal of Animal Science, changes the United Kingdom required in housing for chickens and pregnant pigs only increased production costs about five percent.

"Right now you‘ve got almost no legal protection for farm animals, and we want to change that," said Paul Shapiro, head of the Humane Society‘s Factory Farming Campaign. "The ultimate agenda of animal rights organizations is to abolish all use of animals for any purpose," he said.

The battle pitting animal rights activists against farmers and food processors was triggered by the shift from family farms with a variety of livestock to what‘s been dubbed "factory farms." Except for organic and other niche farms, most US farms today raise one species almost in an assembly line, often with thousands of animals kept indoors.

Activists have successfully pressured some big corporations — including giant pork producer Smithfield Foods Inc., ice cream maker Ben & Jerry‘s, Burger King Corp. and Wendy‘s International Inc. — into changes such as getting at least some pork and eggs from farms with more humane operations.

Source: Prescott Herald

5m Editor