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October 26, 2011

The HSUS Blows Whistle on Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission

Complaint Charges Violations of State Open Meetings Law

The Humane Society of the United States filed a formal complaint today with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture against the Kentucky Livestock Care Standards Commission for significant violations of the state’s Open Meetings Act.

Created by the legislature in 2010 to develop “standards governing the care and well-being of on-farm livestock,” the Commission has repeatedly failed to include the public in drafting care standards. Rather than requiring humane care, the draft standards adopt some of the cruelest factory farming practices, such as amputating cows’ tails without painkiller and confining calves raised for veal in crates so cramped that the calves can’t even turn around for months on end.

“Developing policies through open and public meetings is a fundamental part of our democratic process that ensures integrity and transparency,” said Pam Rogers, Kentucky state director for The HSUS. “Instead of following the law, the Commission has been meeting in secret with what looks like the intent to rubber-stamp some of the worst forms of animal cruelty opposed by both veterinarians and the public.”

The complaint alleges that the Commission failed to hold even a single public meeting and that its species advisory groups improperly conducted the majority of the drafting outside of the public’s eye for over a year. The complaint further details failures to prepare required records, to publish Commission meeting schedules, to provide proper notices and agendas, and more, all of which are violations of state law. 

These violations have concealed from the public the most critical aspects of the standards development process, which was the apparent intent of the Commission’s presiding officer, Richie Farmer, evidenced by his statement at the opening meeting of the Commission:

“In Kentucky we’re blessed with the structure of our government that does not allow for the voter referendum and voter influence on a public that really has no idea about what we’re trying to do. And I think that certainly allows us to take our time and to do it right and not have to worry with someone looking over our shoulder or telling us what we should or should not be doing.” – Richie Farmer 

The standards that are emerging from the secret deliberations fall drastically short of providing proper care of Kentucky’s farm animals and are out of step with mainstream veterinary opinion. Two of the most obvious areas where the draft standards fall short are those permitting veal calves to be confined in crates that virtually immobilize the calves and those permitting dairy producers to routinely amputate cows’ tails (tail docking) without pain killers. Both of these practices are opposed by the American Veterinary Medical Association and were recently prohibited—with phase-outs—by a similar livestock board in Ohio. Tail docking is banned in several nations and opposed by the American Association of Bovine Practitioners and the American Veal Association’s board of directors has unanimously recommended phasing out crate confinement of veal calves.

The HSUS has asked the Commission to take immediate measures to remedy these violations. The complaint requests that the Commission take no further action until it and its subgroups hold truly public meetings that revisit all matters considered at the unlawful meetings. It also demands that all future actions of the Commission be conducted in strict compliance with the Open Meetings Act.

Read more about the Kentucky Livestock Commission here.

Media Contact: Anna West, 301-258-1518, awest@humanesociety.org.

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