Livestock shows a lesson in ethics, animal care

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Dr. Jeff Goodwin, PhD
Jeff Goodwin, PhD, of Moscow, Idaho, presents "The Ethics of Livestock Shows-Past, Present and Future."

In 1994, the amount of illegal drug residues in show livestock was detected at a higher level. Some of those animals had been showcased at youth livestock shows.

Not only were these illicit practices disturbing for reasons of animal welfare and food safety, but they also set a bad example for the young people participating in the shows.

As the competition increased and the cash prizes became larger, some adults lost sight of the youth development goal of these events. "The kids and animals became the innocent victims," said Jeff Goodwin, PhD, associate professor of extension at the University of Idaho, during the AVMA Animal Welfare Forum.

Livestock shows began in the 1800s in Europe and the United States. It was in the '90s when livestock show abuses came to a head with a widely publicized case at an Arkansas fair, Dr. Goodwin said.

A 1990 survey of livestock participants associated with one major livestock show revealed 7.9 percent gave steroids to their animals, 42.5 gave tranquilizers, and 24.8 gave diuretics; 37.5 falsified registration papers; and 25 percent gave illegal drugs.

And those are just the ones who admitted it, he observed.

"Prior to 1994, people didn't talk about cattle mistreatment in livestock shows," Dr. Goodwin said. "Now we openly approach this issue from two sides. The first, enforcement through random drug testing and a strict, orderly chain of evidence gathering, is combined with the second, education."

Drug testing has contributed greatly to ethical treatment of livestock in shows. Improved methods of residue detection offer quicker, more accurate results, and tests are performed randomly at many county and state fairs.

Furthermore, individuals who violate the rules are forbidden entry into future shows sanctioned by the North American Livestock Show and Rodeo Managers Association.

There is also a growing trend in some states to judge livestock not just on appearance but to use real-time ultrasound to objectively determine lean yield and fat growth of the animals.

Dr. Goodwin has created a three-part video series that focuses on proper animal care and emphasizes the importance of making the right choices as a youth to become a responsible adult.

"We've made definite improvements in animal welfare and livestock show management during the past six years," he said, "and we're teaching the kids involved right from wrong. We're focusing on animal care skills to show them how to make good choices throughout their lives."