TRENTON, New Jersey (Reuters) - New Jersey allows cruelty to farm animals by failing to ban practices such as castration without anesthetic, animal rights activists said on Wednesday in a lawsuit that might help set national standards for the treatment of livestock.
Groups including the Humane Society of the United States and Farm Sanctuary said the state Department of Agriculture had failed to establish humane standards for farm animals as required by a law implemented in 2004.
New Jersey is the only state requiring officials to set humane standards for the treatment of farm animals, and enforcing the measure could lead to better treatment of livestock across the country, said Gene Baur, president of Farm Sanctuary.
Lawyers for the groups told a panel in the appellate division of New Jersey Superior Court that the state had bowed to the farm industry by allowing inhumane methods to persist on the grounds they are common practice for farmers and agricultural colleges.
They cited other practices including the starvation of chickens in order to boost egg production, the permanent confinement of pigs in cages so small they cannot turn around, de-beaking of fowl and tail-docking in which most of a cow's tail is amputated to make milking easier.
Nancy Costello Miller, an attorney for the state, said standards of care that many people would find unacceptable for pets are normal in the farm industry, and sometimes, as in de-beaking, are necessary to protect animals from each other or to safeguard the health of the flock or herd.
"We have to accept that these animals are being raised for human purposes," she told the court.
Asked by Judge Michael Winkelstein how castration without anesthetic can be good for animal welfare, Miller replied that the pain suffered by the animal is only brief.
"Sometimes distraction is enough to take attention from the pain," she said.
Miller denied that the Department of Agriculture had failed to apply the law, saying, "We have done as the legislature directed."
Katherine Meyer, an attorney for the animal rights groups, said the state has endorsed common agricultural practices without determining whether they are humane.
A decision by the three-judge panel is not expected for months.