Schwarzenegger Lets Cows Keep Tails

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Photo by st0rmz/Flickr CC


A bit of good news on the farming front for a change. On Sunday, California's Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill that will ban the practice of cutting off dairy cows' tails, making California the first state to adopt such a measure.

California is now the nation's biggest dairy producer, so starting here makes sense. Agribusiness operations that practice tail docking justify it by claiming it's more hygienic and labor-saving. Scientific research, however, shows no benefits to food safety, and it's well known to cause cows chronic pain.

We supported the bill, known as SB-135, which will go into effect in 2010, as a common sense and needed reform. In our letter to the governor, here's some of what we said:

We adamantly support livestock farming, but we also believe that it's imperative to make it as environmentally benign, as healthful, and as animal-friendly as possible. In addition to working on our own ranch, (where we raise turkeys, goats and cattle), we have both spent much of the past several years advocating for what we believe are much needed reforms to the farm animal industries. ...[We] strongly support a ban on dairy cow tail docking. In fact, Nicolette has even written an op-ed in the New York Times on the subject. As she explained in the op-ed, tail docking of dairy cows (and pigs) is not justified by scientific research and is well known to have serious down sides for the animals.

Really it's just a matter of common sense. Some practices that cause animals pain or discomfort on a farm may be necessary for human or animal health or safety or for other legitimate reasons. Others practices are just cruel, outdated, and dumb. Docking dairy cows' tails falls into the latter category. All farmers and ranchers should support getting rid of such practices because they give agriculture a black-eye.

We are cautious when it comes to further regulation of farming and ranching, but until the agriculture industry begins to seriously reform itself, we consider laws like this one warranted and welcome.

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Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman are ranchers in Northern California. Nicolette is also an attorney and writer, and Bill is the founder of the natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc. More

Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman are owners and operators of BN RANCH, a seaside ranch in Bolinas, California, where they raise their son Miles, grass-fed cattle, heritage turkeys, and goats. They were featured in an August 2009 cover story in TIME about the crisis in America's food system.

Nicolette is a rancher, attorney, and writer. Much of her time is spent speaking and writing about the problems of industrialized livestock production, including the book Righteous Porkchop: Finding a Life and Good Food Beyond Factory Farms (HarperCollins, 2009) and four essays she has written on the subject for the New York Times. She has written for Huffington Post, CHOW, and Earth Island Journal. Previously, she was the senior attorney for the environmental organization Waterkeeper Alliance, where she was in charge of the organization's campaign to reform the concentrated livestock and poultry industry, and, before that, an attorney for National Wildlife Federation. Nicolette served two terms on the city council for the City of Kalamazoo, Michigan. She received her Juris Doctorate, cum laude, from the University of Michigan and her B.A. in Biology and French from Kalamazoo College.

Bill is a cattle rancher and founder of the natural meat company Niman Ranch, Inc. He was a member of Pew's National Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, which released recommendations for reform of the nation's livestock industry in April 2008. Niman has been named "Food Artisan of the Year" by Bon Appetit and has been called the "Master of Meat" by Wine Spectator, the "Guru of Happy Cows" by the Los Angeles Times, "a pioneer of the good meat movement" by the New York Times, "the Steve Jobs of Meat" by Men's Journal, and a "Pork Pioneer" by Food & Wine. The Southern Foodways Alliance named him its Scholar in Residence for 2009, stating that he was "this country's most provocative and persistent champion of sustainably and humanely raised livestock." Vanity Fair magazine has featured him in its "Green Issue," and Plenty magazine selected him as among the nation's five leading "green entrepreneurs." He has been honored with the Glynwood Harvest Good Neighbor Award. Bill co-authored The Niman Ranch Cookbook (Ten Speed Press, 2005), which was selected as one of the year's best cookbooks by the New York Times, Newsweek, and the San Jose Mercury News.

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