As the dairy and livestock industries continue to evolve and maintain a progressive stance, we often face challenges in regard to ethics and interpretation of our social license. Some of these require us to take a position, but more importantly we need to report the research and science behind these issues.

At times, we might not agree with a specific position. But if data from well-conducted, peer-reviewed studies exist, we must use the facts.

One current example of this is the ban on tail docking in dairy cattle by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) through its FARM 3.0 program. NMPF originally slated 2022 to be the year for discontinuing tail docking, but in October 2015 the board approved a resolution to change the deadline to Jan. 1, 2017. Some food retailers were pushing for their own bans on tail docking well before 2022, which could have created chaos in the dairy case. Consequently, NMPF voted to move up its ban to this year.

“On this issue, the science, the advice of our technical experts and requests from our dairy customers and consumers are all aligned. Today’s action demonstrates that dairy producer-leaders want to be proactive, yet pragmatic, in addressing animal care concerns,” says Jim Mulhern, NMPF president and CEO. 

The American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP) has a long-standing position statement not supporting tail docking unless medically necessary. As president of AABP, I have been brought into these conversations and in some instances, challenged on the AABP’s position.

States such as California and countless other countries have led the way with this issue, but there are still those in opposition. Some dairy producers have voiced their opposition to this ban. They feel it will significantly limit their abilities to maintain clean cows and produce quality milk. This has led to some significant dialogue between myself and these individuals.

These are not always easy conversations to have. But we must support our industry, our professional organizations and associations and most importantly use data to disseminate the science behind the “whats and whys” of these important decisions.

Take a Walk Through Whole Foods

As we dissect Jim Mulhern’s statement, we see NMPF obviously looked upon the science but also “advice of technical experts” and “requests of our dairy customers and consumers.” This is important for us as dairy/beef producers to understand. We are producing food products for the public and need to at least understand their viewpoints. Take a walk through Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s to see what decisions people make regarding their food.

There are technologies and practices we must continue to support and defend. The use of biotechnology such as GMOs and the preservation of antimicrobial use are a few important issues and many organizations have contributed significant efforts to their continued use. But likewise, we must be transparent when there is little scientific support for a practice, such as tail docking.

I find a quote from a 2015 Journal of Dairy Science invited review, “Changes in the dairy industry affecting dairy cattle health and welfare,*” very appropriate. “Concurrently, to remain competitive and to preserve their social license to operate, farmers are increasingly required to adopt increased standards for food safety and biosecurity, become less reliant on the use of antimicrobials and hormones, and provide assurances regarding animal welfare.”

Existing and new issues will continue to resonate within our industry. We must use the knowledge we have along with recognition of the viewpoints of consumers as we and our allied organizations address these concerns.

*J. Dairy Sci. 98:7426–7445

Note: This story appears in the February 2017 issue of Dairy Herd Management.