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New tail-docking bill may make California's dairy cows happier

February 13, 2009 |  6:37 pm

Tail docking for dairy cows could soon become illegal in California

California state Senate Majority Leader Dean Florez (D-Shafter) has introduced a bill, SB 135, which would outlaw the common procedure of docking dairy cows' tails except "during an individual treatment, emergency or operation, if the treatment or operation is performed by a veterinarian for veterinary purposes" with proper anesthesia. 

"With no added benefit to the safety of our food supply, tail docking is nothing more than needless animal cruelty which must be stopped," Florez said.  "I believe the dairy industry will find that living up to California's claim of 'happy cows' is a win-win with a positive benefit to them as well, as decreasing stress in dairy cows ultimately leads to increased milk production."

Proponents of tail docking say the practice improves hygiene in dairy cows.  But it's illegal in many parts of Europe, including the U.K. and the Netherlands.  It's opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Assn. except in the case of medical necessity; the group's stated position is that the practice "provides no benefit to the animal and that tail docking can lead to distress during fly seasons."

"Scientific studies have shown that mutilation of the tail causes serious welfare problems for dairy cows, including distress, pain and increased vulnerability to insect attacks," Michael Greger, director of public health and animal agriculture for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a press conference today.  "Tail-docking never had a scientific rationale, and it's been exposed now as little more than a routine and pointless type of mutilation."

Florez is seen by many as a powerful advocate for animal welfare.  The San Diego Union-Tribune reports:

Significantly, the state Senate also has redefined the mission of the former Agriculture Committee, now called the Food and Agriculture Committee....

Sen. Dean Florez, D-Shafter, the new chairman, has a history of tangling with agriculture over food safety. He plans an oversight hearing next week to explore livestock welfare issues.

"This is a game-changer," said Jennifer Fearing, the Sacramento-based chief economist of the Humane Society of the United States. "There was no place in the Legislature to have a forum about farm animal welfare."

While she does not expect immediate action, Fearing said the humane society is hoping the committee will eventually take up reforms to make poultry slaughtering more humane.

Tail docking is already outlawed for horses in California; SB 135 would add the words "and cattle" to the law's language.

--Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Lisa Kyle/for the Times

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