SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota's laws governing the treatment of livestock and work animals will come under review this year, and changes could be made during the 2011 legislative session.
The state's laws are written broadly. They prohibit inflicting unnecessary and unjustifiable pain and suffering on animals, but they hold the standard of care to be generally accepted practices in agriculture.
Since the statutes were written, however, and even since they last were reviewed in 1991, livestock practices and the way the public views livestock have changed.
"The animal treatment laws in our state are some of the oldest on the books," said Dustin Oedekoven, the state veterinarian and executive director of the Animal Industry Board.
Since the last review, most livestock organizations have developed standards of care to protect animal well-being, according to Bryan Nagel, president of the South Dakota Cattlemen's Association.
"We want to make sure current statutes are consistent with those standards," he said.
So for the next year, an ad hoc group of livestock and farm associations, possibly local humane organizations and Oedekoven plan to review the animal care statutes and recommend any necessary changes to legislators in time for the 2011 session.
Notably excluded from the process will be animal rights groups.
"Those groups are not really interested in humane practices for livestock but probably the elimination of livestock production for food. That really doesn't fit the interest of this group," Oedekoven said of the review team.
One of the entities participating, the South Dakota Farm Bureau, also hopes to use the review as a tool to prevent changing ethics about livestock in other states from being adopted in South Dakota. Farm Bureau Executive Director Mike Held notes docking tails of dairy cattle is a common practice, but in big dairy states such as Washington and California, there are strong efforts to ban it. He also wants to derail an attempt to reclassify horses as companion animals.
"They are key parts of lots of ranch operations. We think horses on farms and ranches need to stay under the Animal Industry Board and not be a companion animal," Held said.
The pending review could take Oedekoven and the others down such roads as raising animals in confinement and the use of genetics and biotechnology to improve livestock and poultry production standards at the expense of animals being able to live in normal comfort.
Long-standing practices linked to safety such as castration and dehorning also might be studied, as well as the practice of debeaking poultry raised in close quarters.
"Particularly with hogs and poultry, we've changed remarkably in the last 20 years," Held said of modern livestock operations.
South Dakota Cooperative Extension Veterinarian Russ Daly also points out, "There is more awareness on the part of the veterinary profession as far as humane euthanasia and pain relief to animals. When I graduated from veterinary school 20 years ago, that was not something we thought much of. Now it's a huge issue."
The yearlong exercise also is a platform for people who raise commercial livestock to explain to the public the reasons for contemporary practices.
Daly said even in a rural state such as South Dakota, there is a growing distance between much of the population and the livestock industry, and changing national perceptions can filter in to fill the gap.
"I think producers and veterinarians in this state are surely aware of national and political pressures. ... I don't think there is anybody who thinks we are removed from all that. The challenge is how to reach the general public. We're really good at talking to livestock producers. We can do a little better job of reaching out to the public."