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HSVMA Condemns Continuation of Live Birth Exhibit at California State Fair

The “show goes on” despite significant animal welfare, human health and safety concerns

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association denounces the California State Fair for including the controversial live birth exhibit in the 2011 event which opens today in Sacramento. The live birth exhibit made international news headlines last year when a pregnant Holstein heifer, trucked to the fair as part of the exhibit, escaped confinement, was deemed by officials to be an imminent public danger, and was subsequently shot many times by police, killing her and her unborn calf.

Cal Expo’s live birth or parturition exhibit involves transporting heavily pregnant cows, pigs and goats to the fairgrounds, putting them on public display, and then allowing spectators to view the animals in the process of giving birth.

Despite last summer’s public outcry and a call from 10 state legislators – including the two ex officio members of the Cal Expo board of directors – to evaluate the appropriateness and humane issues involved with live births at the fair, the exhibit continues this year with only modest changes focused on containment and escape prevention.

“Birthing exhibits are simply unacceptable from an animal welfare standpoint,” said Dr. Sara Shields, who consults for the Humane Society of the United States on farm animal behavior and welfare science and is a graduate of the UC Davis animal behavior program. “New mothers should have a serene, peaceful environment in which to give birth and bond with their newborn, not the noisy, crowded, unfamiliar bustle of the fairgrounds.”

“Given the significant animal welfare, human health and safety concerns associated with the live birth exhibits, there is no justifiable reason for continuing these exhibits,” said Dr. Bethann Palermo, DVM, a Sonoma, CA veterinarian and HSVMA member. “As veterinary professionals focused on the health and welfare of animals, we have urged a transition to a more welfare-appropriate exhibit such as those involving webcams of live births on a farm.”

To help illuminate the issue for decision makers, last fall The HSVMA prepared a white paper, Birthing Exhibits at State or County Fairs. The paper cites scientific studies, international guidelines, industry recommendations, and the veterinary medical literature as evidence that parturition exhibits, and the associated transport of pregnant animals to the exhibit locations, are problematic from an animal welfare, human health and safety perspective.

The transport of late-term pregnant animals to and from the fair violates international guidelines for the welfare of transported animals. The World Organization for Animal Health, comprised of 174 member countries including the United States, formulates standards for disease control and animal welfare. Article 7.3.7. of the Terrestrial Animal Health Code explains that animals who are unfit for the journey, such as animals who are sick, injured, disabled, or blind, for example, should not be transported. Additionally in the list of conditions which preclude transport, the guidelines specifically state, “Animals that are unfit to travel include …pregnant animals which would be in the final 10% of their gestation period at the planned time of unloading.”

There is general agreement among professionals – including the National Milk Producers Federation, the University of California, and the Federation of Animal Science Societies – that an animal who is about to give birth should not be transported.  In one recent publication by UC Davis, whose veterinary staff will continue to oversee animal care at the exhibit, the need of calving cows for isolation and to remain free of unnecessary disturbances is acknowledged.

Limiting the number of visitors entering farms and other holding facilities is a key biosecurity measure, preventing the introduction of infectious diseases into animal herds. In contrast, at the fair, thousands of visitors enter the live birth exhibit. Since stressed animals are more susceptible to disease and newborn animals have little immunity, these exhibited animals are particularly vulnerable to potentially pathogenic organisms that may inadvertently be carried by viewers.

“As a former dairy vet and the current owner of a small herd of retired dairy cows, I can state unequivocally that live birthing exhibits featuring full-term animals, constitute an abusive and unreasonable use of animals for so-called educational purposes,” said Dr. Holly Cheever, DVM, a practice owner and HSVMA Leadership Council chairperson.

The HSVMA white paper can be downloaded here.


The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA) is a national veterinary professional organization with a focus on animal health and welfare. Find out more about HSVMA at: www.hsvma.org.