The well-being of livestock in California is an increasingly important issue for the beef and dairy industries.
California has developed the largest agricultural economy in the United States, with the beef and dairy cattle industries significantly contributing to this global market. While milk is the top agricultural commodity produced in California, California also leads the nation with producing approximately 21% of the US milk supply. Additionally, the California beef industry ranks fifth in the nation in the number of cattle and calves. The well-being of these animals in California is an increasingly important issue for the beef and dairy industries, but also with the increasing awareness of animal welfare issues at the farm level by consumers and retailers over the last decade.
Animal welfare is a complex issue with considerations for the social aspects such as legal, ethical and cultural concerns, as well as, the production issues such as the health and behavior of the animals, economical constraints, and possible food safety risks. An acceptable level of welfare for cattle probably is not limited to one set of practices or system, but may exist over a wide range of conditions provided by varying geographical and productions systems in California. Currently, animal care in commercial facilities is based on published data, scientific principles, practical experience, safety for the animals and employees, and economical considerations.
The welfare of agricultural animals will continue to be enhanced through objective research, effective education, and open communication efforts to all those involved in animal agriculture. Sustained research is essential to provide additional information on the needs, production, and preferences of cattle under different management systems in the various geographical locations throughout California. As new and innovative scientifically-based techniques are developed to enhance animal well-being, education and outreach programs are essential to communicate these advances to both industry and consumers.
The California dairy and beef industries are in a strategic position to market milk and meat products that ensure the economic viability of state's largest agricultural industry, while satisfying the needs of the consumer. The future of animal welfare of the livestock industries of California will be a composite of science, societal pressures, economic constraints, regulations, and possibly on-farm and in commerce certification programs. This progressive issue will be best served through IAWTI's mission with scientific advances, open communication, and outreach educational efforts available to all stakeholders and concerned individuals.