Two pieces of animal welfare legislation introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives has pitted activists against farmers.
The bills would set industry-recommended care standards, require farms to be audited by a third party hired by the state and establish a 10-member animal care advisory council that would review standards set by the legislation at least every five years.
Animal rights activists say the bills don’t go far enough to protect livestock. But Michigan farm officials counter the bills back accepted standards that have proven to be best practices for animal care.
“The bar is set well above anything and everything that comes along,” says Jim Spink, a Jackson County farmer and vice president of the county Farm Bureau’s board of directors. He says the bills would provide a solid foundation for livestock care in the state.
“We need to do things right and take care of those who do wrong, but on the same token, others need to understand we’re not going to mistreat our animals,” Spink says. “We don’t have a very large profit as it is, and if we don’t take care of our animals, we don’t have a profit.”
The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) says these proposals don’t change a thing when it comes to protecting animal welfare. The group is pushing for specific housing guidelines, which are not included in the bills.
If the bills become law, HSUS plans to launch a ballot initiative campaign that would attempt to ensure farmers keep livestock in cages or pens large enough for them to turn around and stretch their limbs. If passed in their current forms, the bills would not be fully implemented until 2020.
HSUS supported ballot initiatives which have passed in Florida, Arizona and California.
The proposed bills create a framework for discussing animal welfare, says State Rep. Mike Simpson, the state House Agriculture Committee’s chairman who also sponsored one of the bills.
“We’ve never actually codified animal care standards into Michigan law and set up a mechanism so we have a system of checks and balances, and a system that if someone is doing something wrong, there’s a procedure to deal with those people,” Simpson says.