December's controversial policy statement against ear-cropping and tail-docking riled the American Kennel Club. Humane organizations
applauded the move.
But AVMA's position was for the right reasons, DeHaven counters. And, according to DVM Newsmagazine's online poll (
http://dvm360.com/), he had the backing of three-quarters of those voting on the issue.
"Those procedures, done for cosmetic purposes, yield no benefit to the animals, but it does subject them to some level of
pain and distress as well as surgical and anesthetic risks. In our role in being advocates for animals, we couldn't find any
position other than to be opposed to those procedures — cosmetic procedures — that have no medical basis for doing them."
The issue, DeHaven says, came up during a five-year review of its position statements. The rest is history.
In the United States, urban populations now outnumber those in rural areas for the first time. Animal agriculture is on a
collision course, DeHaven says. Increasing demand is driving consolidation of farms, and society wants to have a say in agricultural
practices, or at least the ones they find objectionable, like confinement.
"Our population is getting further and further removed from the farm, but they want to have more and more to say about farm-animal
practices. So, therein lies the challenge. It is in educating the public about production agriculture — what it is, and what
it is not. We also want to create an environment that fosters continuous improvement, but not at the expense of driving that
production out of the country."
There is an inevitable economic pressure that results from increased regulation on industries, DeHaven explains.
"I would argue that the unintended consequences may be a welfare for animals that is far worse than it is currently. He, of
course, is referring to keeping agricultural operations within the United States. "So, let's not export our animal issues
from the perspective of the animal and make things even worse. Let's deal with them reasonably, scientifically and rationally
in our country."
One example was the forced closure of equine processing plants in the United States. The unintended consequence is the growing
number of exported horses to Mexico for slaughter, DeHaven says.
"We lost the battle when we allowed it to be characterized as a horse-slaughter issue. The reality is there are 90,000 to
100,000 unwanted horses in this country every year. How do we deal with that problem? We are not pro horse slaughter. We are
pro humane treatment of horses. Arguably, slaughter of horses right now is the best alternative we have, as opposed to animals
that have been turned out to die or animals that are left at livestock markets when they can't be sold.
"Instead of being humanely slaughtered in the United States, they have an additional 1,500-mile trip to Mexico where we don't
have any oversight. We would prefer that horses not be slaughtered for human consumption. But at least for the time being,
until we get more long-term solutions in place, it's a better alternative than some of the others," he says.
On this issue, AVMA's stand was contrary to public opinion.
"But it was the right one for the the right reasons, given the cards we had been dealt," DeHaven adds.