This July, many Californians will experience the excitement of our State Fair in Sacramento. For weeks, fairgoers will take part in countless concerts, competitions and exhibits – including the controversial live-birthing exhibit. As part of the State Fair Livestock Nursery, the live-birthing exhibit consists of transporting extremely pregnant cows, sheep, goats or pigs to the fairgrounds and putting them on public display in an unfamiliar setting to give birth in front of crowds.
California is among the dwindling minority of states that still allow spectators to watch in-person livestock birthing at its state fair (only about a dozen remain). Texas, Colorado and Oregon, for example, do not feature live-birthing exhibits due to concerns about animal welfare, inadequate facilities and staffing and/or public safety.
Proponents suggest that the live-birthing exhibit offers spectators a unique opportunity to learn about animal agriculture production, veterinary science and the birthing process. The San Francisco SPCA certainly agrees that these lessons are very important. However, our organization joins many others in the veterinary and animal welfare communities in maintaining that live-birthing exhibits constitute an unnecessary and unreasonable use of animals for educational purposes.
Conventional knowledge of animal husbandry suggests that, while at the fairgrounds and during transport in highly stressful environments with completely unfamiliar sights and sounds, a mother’s and her newborn baby’s ability to express normal behavior and to be free from fear and distress is compromised. Animals instinctively seek seclusion at the time of giving birth, and seclusion is, of course, impossible to find while on public display at a state fair. (Californians may recall the tragedy in 2010 when a stressed, pregnant heifer seeking solace at the State Fair escaped and was shot to death by police.)
Fortunately, witnessing a delivery in person is not the only way for us to appreciate the important lessons that it has to offer. The SF SPCA hopes to soon see the live-birthing display at the California State Fair replaced by a more humane exhibit, such as an off-site webcam capturing live births and simulated interactive birthing models.
Until then, each of us has a responsibility to ensure that animals are treated in a way that does not cause unnecessary suffering to them. If the mission of the California Exposition & State Fair includes creating an “experience reflecting California,” then Californians can contact their legislators and State Fair leadership to let them know that the live-birthing exhibit no longer reflects the values of a humane California.