Tail-Docking Goes the Way of the Dodo

In addition to ultimately being killed, and to (for most), being severely confined indoors, without fresh air, soil or trees, American factory-farmed animals are subjected to a horrifying line-up of painful physical mutilations. These are all a result of farmers’ desires to keep their work easy and predictable, and reflect the shift to factory-farming that has occurred in the U.S. since the 1940s.

While the last few decades have seen more or less blind acceptance of tail-docking, debeaking, tooth extraction, dehorning, branding, detoeing, ear notching, castration, and other generally excruciating procedures conducted without anesthesia, things are beginning to change.

As the public has become increasingly sensitized to the plight of animals packed for months and sometimes years in windowless warehouses know as “factory farms”, and as they begin to support offering these animals more space, and perhaps fresh air and a natural social network, they also begin to question the mutilations inflicted on the animals.

Nowhere does the American public seem more interested and proactive in such issues than in California. Last year saw the passage of the Prevention of Farm Animal Cruelty Act, banning the extreme factory-setting confinement of egg-laying hens, calves intended for veal, and pregnant pigs. The state is once again leading the way with the help of its newly created Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture (see January 17, 2009 post). It has approved Senate Bill 135 to ban the routine tail-docking of dairy cows for management purposes, due to it being a form of “needless animal cruelty inflicted on animals raised for food.” 

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, tail docking was introduced in an effort to curb disease and infection in dairy cows and those milking them. However, the American Veterinary Medical Association claims there exists insufficient scientific evidence to support this practice for the sake of routine herd management. The American Association of Bovine Practitioners agrees, stating it “is not aware of sufficient scientific evidence in the literature to support tail docking in cattle.” To the contrary, there exists clear scientific evidence of animal welfare problems associated with tail docking, as enumerated by the American Veterinary Medical Association: acute temporary pain; long-term, chronic pain; potential infection; psychological stress; increased vulnerability to flies; increased sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures; potentialyl compromised ability to communicate with other cows.

The practice is banned in many European countries and some Australian states, and is disapproved of by the American Veterinary Medical Association, the California Veterinary Medical Association, and various animal welfare experts, public health experts and agricultural scientists

To become law, the bill must next be approved by the Senate Public Safety Committee. The Illinois senate has also introduced a bill to ban tail-docking of dairy cows by amending the Illinois Humane Care for Animals Act. This is a great first step. Next, we need all states to adopt this legislation and expand it not only to other species who are forced to suffer unnecessary and deleterious tail cutting, but to other ridiculous and painful practices inflicted on various species, including tooth clipping, disbudding and dehorning, castration, detoeing, mulesing and debeaking.

 -Suzanne McMillan

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