By Brandon Treichler, DVM, Select Milk Producers, AABP animal welfare committee
As many of you have certainly heard, a series of undercover videos of two Florida dairies have been released by a group calling themselves the Animal Rescue Mission (ARM). These undercover videos feature several instances of indefensible animal handling practices by multiple individuals. As professionals who swear an oath to the relief of pain and suffering, the videos are very difficult to watch without becoming disheartened.
Now more than ever, it is critical the veterinary community do our part to ensure the welfare of our clients’ cattle. As bovine veterinarians, it is important to lead the discussion on animal care. The dairy and beef industries, our clients, and our friends need us to step up and lead. Please take time to ensure your veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) forms are filled out, up to date, and in the client’s herd-health plan materials. Additionally, use this opportunity to review the herd-health plan and protocols to ensure they are current and accurate. Encourage your clients to embrace employee training and help them source or develop training resources that fit their needs. In short, take oversight of the animal-care program, just as you do the treatment protocols and drug use for your clients.
Consumers, retailers and processors see veterinarians as experts in the care of dairy and beef cattle. Ensuring that every client has a written VCPR offers some assurance to our industry partners that by working with a veterinarian, the producer is assuring the proper care of their animals. We encourage you to take charge of the VCPR, and let your clients know its utmost importance. If for some reason you do not feel comfortable signing the VCPR for a client, have the courage to speak up and discuss why.
Speaking of courage, we do our profession, our clients and in many cases our friends a huge disservice if we see animal-care issues and do not voiice our concerns. The dairy industry has asked all employees to sign cow-care agreements, in which employees agree to report anything they see that may be jeopardizing a cows’ welfare. It is critical that we hold ourselves to the same standards if we want to continue to command the respect of consumers.
For those issues you already have brought to your clients attention without result, or that you think are serious enough to require backing from the industry, the National Milk Producers Federation’s Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program has an anonymous tip line for reporting concerns through the See It-Stop It program. That number is 816-880-5360. Concerns can also be reported anonymously directly to the FARM Animal Care Program by emailing email@example.com. Provide the name, address, cooperative or processor and an outline of concerns. Once credibility of the tip is confirmed, a third-party animal-care investigation of that facility will be initiated under FARM’s Willful Mistreatment Protocol.
Understandably, self reporting one of your clients may cause concerns. It is important to remember that your call will potentially help keep this dairy from being targeted by an undercover activist, and helps protect the rest of your clients and the industry as a whole.
Make no mistake, there are multiple activist groups that are extremely well-trained, well-led, and well-funded, targeting animal agriculture. Veterinarians can greatly aid the dairy and beef industries by leading the animal-care discussions and help these industries regulate themselves by speaking up and advocating for the cows.