Dairy industry experts concede that consumers may have a point when they object to tail docking and certain other routine husbandry practices.

Janice Swanson, in a Michigan Dairy Review editorial, noted that published, peer-reviewed scientific articles written by respected scientists have reached similar conclusions. “The message here is that when science cannot support a practice it may be best to abandon it or look for alternatives. Pick your battles carefully. The insistence to continue a practice when it is ill-supported scientifically and by the veterinary medical community casts doubt on the ethical bearings of an industry.”

Swanson not only sees the importance of scientific data, but recognizes the ethical implications of ignoring them. Meanwhile, the New York Farm Bureau simply chooses to dismiss the scientific research as “inadequate,” (http://www.nyfb.org/img/topic_pdfs/file_0tzl2bdl5e.pdf -- the website disingenuously depicts a groomed cow with a fluffy, combed tail grazing in a pasture -- while the Vermont Agency of Agriculture does nothing but protect the status quo and the farmers’ prerogative to do whatever they want. Nope. Not gonna change here.

But there are signs of progress out there. This past spring, there was a report by Peggy Coffeen in the Wisconsin Agri-View titled, “Put cows at the center of animal welfare.” This is a dramatic about-face from the defensive stance that often typifies industry reaction to animal welfare concerns.

Coffeen describes the University of Wisconsin’s Amy Stanton, whose initiatives include research on understanding animals’ needs and addressing concerns related to dairy welfare issues. “There are a few Achilles’ heels weighing us down,” Stanton is quoted as saying. In addition to lameness and dehorning, topics such as calf mortality, downed animals, confinement and other surgical procedures like tail docking are on the list, she says.

In the same piece, veterinarian Jen Walker, director of dairy stewardship for Dean Foods, cautioned producers to be careful that their actions back up their words: “Without science-based objective outcomes and required action, the welfare of the animals will not improve.” A lack of action implies a disregard for both science and ethical considerations, even as “customers are demanding that the physical and emotional well-being of the cow comes first and foremost.”

Trust is certainly a casualty of inaction and failure to redress. ”When trust is lost, there are consequences," Walker warned.

Considering the dire state of dairy, along with consumer concerns, isn’t it high time to reconsider the cow?