Schwarzenegger Lets Cows Keep Tails

By Bill Niman and Nicolette Hahn Niman
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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 Others practices are just cruel, outdated, and dumb.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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/10/schwarzenegger-lets-cows-keep-tails/28261/