Anti-cruelty group presses state on welfare rules


Trenton, N.J.-To rush the onset of minimal treatment standards for New Jersey livestock, officials say welfare activists have bombarded the state's agriculture department with 25,000 e-mails, phone calls and even death threats.

Trenton, N.J.-To rush the onset of minimal treatment standardsfor New Jersey livestock, officials say welfare activists have bombardedthe state's agriculture department with 25,000 e-mails, phone calls andeven death threats.

Activists view these standards as vital because once approved, they couldset national precedent for the minimal care of farm animals, thereby determininganything less as cruel-a sensitive topic no other state has legislativelytouched. New Jersey law mandated the standards' creation in 1996, but diseaseoutbreaks, funding issues and other priorities have consumed the officeuntil now, officials say.

"It's not that we don't want to do this, we've just had other priorities,"says Nancy Halpern, DVM, the department's assistant director of diseasecontrol. "We're still the same little animal health agency we've alwaysbeen. Our primary role is to protect livestock from infectious diseases,and it's just been one disease situation after another."

Having to respond to thousands of e-mails hasn't helped, either, shesays. "Because of the way they're doing this, they're preventing usfrom moving forward. It's counterproductive."

Changing the rules

The purpose of the standards, according to Halpern, is to give anyoneremotely familiar with agriculture the tools to evaluate and recognize animalcruelty.

Farm Sanctuary, the organization lobbying for the rules, has a more specificagenda. According to its Web site, group leaders say the standards shouldoutlaw certain livestock confinement methods in the state.

"Change is happening and New Jersey can be a leader in this area,"says Gene Bauston, Farm Sanctuary's director. "It's not a huge agriculturestate and that's why these reforms can take hold here."

Rejected from the board

To implement his views, Bauston wants to make Farm Sanctuary part ofthe government's standard-writing panel, which is comprised of experts inveterinary, farming, transport, and scientific communities. Halpern adamantlyrejects his pleas, and won't release the names of those on the board forsafety reasons.

"The threats say we're not doing our job fast enough," Halpernsays. "These animal rights people are making threats on people's lives."

But Bauston denounces Halpern's claims. "That's crazy. I can't imaginewho would be making those kinds of threats and I frankly question whetherit's even occurring.

"It's been one excuse after another as to why these standards haven'talready been published," he says. "At the end of the day, youhave to look at behavior, and there's very little indication that they'rewilling to do the right thing."

Setting the stage

Once released, the standards likely will set the national stage to increaselivestock cruelty prevention, and it's this document's definition of minimumstandards of care that has Dr. James Jarrett, executive vice president ofthe American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), worried.

Jarrett does not sit on the New Jersey agriculture department's paneland has not seen what the standards' draft might contain.

"It scares me as to what this document might look like when it isreleased," he says. "We at AABP would certainly be opposed tocruelty in any fashion. It's how the document determines minimum standards,which could thereby determine cruelty, we might have a problem with."

Aside from that, he says the standards likely won't apply to veterinarians,who are usually cruelty savvy. "We don't have to be coached in this,"he says. "Dedicated food animal veterinarians recognize when animalsare mistreated and don't produce well."

No date set

Halpern won't estimate on when the standards will be complete, only tosay she expects it will be soon. When ready, she likely will post a draftversion on the department's Web site, allowing for a public review and responseperiod.

At presstime, Farm Sanctuary had scheduled a peaceful rally on the stepsof the state capital April 7. Bauston expects a few hundred people willshow, including actress and speaker Mary Tyler Moore. Farm Sanctuary won'tease up, he says, until the standards are complete.

"This is one we will go to the wall on," Bauston adds. "Wewould love to see veterinarians out with us, promoting that farm animals,like all animals, have feelings."

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