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An animal welfare first for U.S.

An unusual coalition of farm groups, animal welfare experts and state officials Thursday announced a new Iowa group that will make it easier  for anyone in the state to report perceived animal care problems, and at the same time offer a new way to educate consumers about normal livestock practices.
The new Iowa Farm Animal Care Coalition has the backing of the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Pork Producers Association and will tap into the expertise of Iowa State University faculty, including Suzanne Millman, a professor of animal welfare at ISU's College of Veterinary Medicine.
"We've been working on trying to pull together this program with leaders in the agricultural community for a couple of years," Millman said at a news conference at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates in Des Moines, Iowa.
The voluntary program will offer consulting and other services to livestock owners in situations that fall into a gray areas not covered by the state's animal cruelty laws, Millman said. The group's website has an online form for a "concerned citizen report" that lists inappropriate feeding, handling or shelter as examples of potential problems that can be reported. Anyone with a concern can also call the group's help line at 800/525-0577.
Both the names of concerned citizens and those of livestock owners will be kept confidential, said Denny Harding, the group's executive director.
"If warranted, the expert from the on-farm evaluation team may be called in to visit the site, with the permission of the animal owner," said Harding, who is also Farm Bureau's Bio-Economy Manager and who is involved in a Calhoun County, Iowa farm.
The team might offer suggestions for improvement.
According to Millman, "Everything is confidential and nobody is forced to take these recommendations. We are just trying to improve animal care."
Although the program is a first in the U.S., it's inspired by two other voluntary programs in Canada, in Alberta and in Ontario, she said.
In some cases, consumers who call the new hotline may learn that what they've seen are normal practices in raising livestock and that no harm has been done.
That educational aspect of the program appeals to Greg Lear, a Spencer, Iowa farmer who is president-elect of the Iowa Pork Producers. It's his hope that Iowa Farm Animal Care will be able to counter misinformation about modern livestock production "one person at a time, with impressions and education," he told
Earlier at the coalition announcement, Lear said that the vast majority of livestock producers take great pride in protecting their animals.
"I know how important good care is in relation to animal health," he said. 
Another service of the coalition will be to let any struggling livestock producers know about state programs available if they can't buy feed for their animals.  Iowa has a program that will buy feed until the animals are taken to market, with the proceeds from the livestock sale reimbursing the program, Lear said.
"The big thing is making sure we get feed to the animals," he said. That issue could become more important if the Midwest has a second drought in 2013 and corn hits $10 a bushel, he said. 
Tom Colvin, executive director of the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, said that his animal shelter organization does get a few calls about mistreatment of livestock as well as smaller pets.
"Most of the calls we get are about horses," he said. 
Some horse owners can't part with the animals and wind up keeping more than they can care for, a type of hoarding.
"You hear about that with cats and dogs, that happens with horses as well," he said.
Colvin is a member of the new coalition's advisory committee. The others are Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey; State of Iowa Veterinarian, David Schmitt; and Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association President, Jerry Dunbar. 
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