For years, Wes Jamison has warned the U.S. dairy industry that European-style animal-welfare regulations are on the way. While those warnings have still not materialized, it’s only a matter of time, he maintains.

American animal welfare will become “Europeanized,” but with certain political differences, Jamison told an audience at the recent North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando, Fla. “Our perspective will increasingly look like the European approach,” he added.

The “precursors” that have shaped European attitudes toward animal welfare are further along than they are in the U.S., says Jamison, who has lived in Europe, but now resides in Iowa as a professor at DordtCollege. Those same precursors are taking shape here as well. For instance:

  • Fewer and fewer Americans live on farms or have relatives who live on farms.
  • We remain an affluent society, and affluent societies don’t worry about food cost or what would happen to food cost if farms had to face additional regulatory burdens.
  • An aging Baby Boomer population will turn to their pets for emotional attachment now that their children have moved out of their households.

If the U.S. resists stricter regulation, then the regulations may be forced on us by the European countries as a defacto trade barrier that must be overcome if we want to ship our products there, Jamison says.

Asked how the European animal-welfare models could take hold if U.S. business is becoming more efficient ― the so-called Wal-Mart model ― Jamison pointed out that “moral concerns will trump the efficiencies” of business models. For example, companies that have been accused of benefiting from sweatshop labor overseas have backed down and even taken anti-sweatshop stances.