Starting next year, students who show farm animals at California fairs must receive certification in food safety, animal care and ethics — or they won’t be able to participate.
Jay Carlson, Ag programs manager for the Fairs and Exhibition Branch, said the training is a way to provide another layer of preparedness for students who raise animals as part of a 4-H or FFA project.
“Fairs are experiencing with much more frequency, society questioning the relevance and value of our animal programs,” Carlson said. “We should all know that less than 2 percent of the population is actively involved in the production of agriculture. This fact makes fairs more important than ever concerning agriculture education.”
The requirement for FFA and 4-H students will cost $12 if they do it online, or $3 if they attend a Fairs and Exposition Branch approved Quality Assurance and Ethics Awareness training.
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Many in the agriculture industry are supportive of the move, saying it will help reinforce good animal care practices. Several people also said the requirement is long overdue and may help to curb the mistreatment of animals.
Still, the move has been criticized by others.
On the Facebook page of My Job Depends on Ag, an FFA student from Le Grand complained about having to take the test. She wrote: “As if I’m not paying enough for my animals, feed and vaccinations itself? Another thing the ag teachers have to worry about...#nannystate.”
The Nov. 28 post has been shared nearly 200 times , received 237 comments and nearly 800 interactions. Critics called the certification an overreach, California liberalism, invasive, and bullying by animal rights groups.
But others said the certification has been required in other states for several years and has been helpful to students, including those who don’t have a farming background.
Several people said the requirement is long overdue and may help to curb the mistreatment of animals.
Kassie Mendes, an FFA adviser at Chowchilla High School, can only recall a few instances where a student or their parent did something unethical. In one instance, a parent lied about the age of an animal, hoping to give his student an advantage in showing a more mature animal than what the judges were told.
“I’ve heard of people feeding animals high amounts of protein or injecting them with air to make them look bigger,” she said. “As with anything in life, there are people who want to win at all costs.”
Rachel Mancebo, a 15-year-old FFA student from Chowchilla High School, said she is a aware of a case where a student, at another school, that tried to inject a goat with steroids to make it more muscular. The were caught and not allowed to compete.
“Who does that to an animal?,” said Mancebo, who raises dairy cows and goats. “That is the kind of thing that is harmful to the animal and to the people who may consume it.”
Part of the training that will be required, discusses the ethics of showing animals in competition, providing a well-balanced diet for different animals and how to properly provide medication to an animal.
Mike Mederos, an FFA advisor in Tulare, said part of what is driving the the requirements is the growing scrutiny of animal agriculture. Animal rights activists have become skilled at exposing cases of alleged mistreatment and abuse on dairies, poultry ranches or feedlots.
“We want people to know that we have an educational process in place that’s teaching students about the ethical treatment of animals,” Mederos said.
Chowchilla FFA student Kylie Farmer, 17, has been showing farm animals, including sheep, since she was nine years old. Although she has years of experience raising and showing animals, she supports the certification requirement.
“There are activist groups out there that are so quick to attack us, so I am going to do everything I can to make sure my animals are treated right,” Farmer said. “It is the right thing to do.”
Lauri King, deputy manager of the Big Fresno Fair, said the fair plans to offer the certification training by mid-February or early March. And she said the cases of animal mistreatment are few and far between.
“We are talking about quality assurance, food safety and ethics,” she said. “This is teaching kids the right way to raise their animals, the way production ag is raising animals.”