American farm groups are pushing for animal welfare regulations to be set at a federal level to avoid fragmenting the domestic market.
Minnesota Farm Bureau president Kevin Papp issued the call after a series of laws were passed in California which banned the production of eggs from caged hens, and later the sale of all eggs produced in confinement, whether from California or other states.
This led to 12 states, including Missouri, Iowa and Wisconsin, asking the Supreme Court to strike the law down on the grounds that it affected inter-state trade and would discriminate against their producers.
According to Iowa publication Little Village, the state’s chief deputy attorney said the California law was ‘a single state’s attempt to dictate the manner of agricultural production in every other state’.
The Supreme Court rejected the case, claiming the states themselves were not affected by California’s egg laws, and litigation would need to be pursued by the farmers.
But Mr Papp told Farmers Guardian there was a need to ensure uniformity across state lines on animal welfare issues.
“Certainly from a Farm Bureau perspective, and from an animal care perspective, we do not support having a patchwork of individual states having different regulations,” he said.
“We think there needs to be, because of commerce and agriculture moving across state lines, a national programme.
“There will be a move on this as we negotiate with the EU on trade, and there are some who would like us to have the same animal welfare standards here.”
One practice which does still take place in some states is cattle tail docking, a procedure which has been criticised for causing phantom pain, preventing cows from being able to remove flies and affecting their ability to communicate with herd mates.
On Keiffer Dairy Farm, a fifth generation family farm in Hastings, Minnesota, cows had their tails docked up until last year for ‘cleanliness’ reasons and the protection of workers in the milking parlour.
Due to consumer pressure, creameries and cheese processing plants are now restricting the practice, but most of the time this works on a ‘recommendation only’ basis.
Bret Otte, a livestock consultant on the Keiffer farm, said: “There is nothing federally enforced yet, but the cheese plants are saying they would rather not have you do it and it is a welfare thing.
“Here in the US, California pushes on every consumer issue. It is illegal to do in California, they cannot dock tails and they push the rest of the country to go that way.
“It will eventually probably be more so enforced, but right now it is just recommended not to. Maybe eventually the federal government will jump in a little bit more, but as of right now, they are still leaving it up to states, because that is how consumers are pressuring things.”