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Serving: IN

How far does society go to protect the guilty?

Tom J. Bechman 4-H students compete in pig show
FAIR FOR ALL: 4-H’ers deserve a livestock show where each person competes on an equal footing as much as possible.
There is a cost even in agriculture to fending off those who would cheat.

There’s a new requirement for many 4-H members exhibiting animals at the Indiana State Fair. Even before this year, each 4-H’er submitted a 4-H Animal Affidavit form certifying that he or she had not administered substances which violate laws or rules to their animals. For 2022, those in charge went one step further. The 4-H’er must also submit a 4-H Animal Affidavit-Animal Husbandry Form for each animal exhibited.

This new form provides ample space for details about any time an animal was treated with anything since the official ownership deadline. There are columns to note date of treatment, dosage and withdrawal period for drugs. Instructions even indicate noting if any “foreign substance was administered in any form or manner.”

On its face, this form seems innocuous. Tracking animal treatment information is a good practice to teach young people. Anything that promotes animal wellness should be a good thing.

Here’s the rub

If you hear a “but” coming, you’re right. If the real purpose is discouraging cheating, is one more form going to make any difference? Is someone who inserts a foreign object into an animal going to acknowledge it on a form?

If that sounds cynical, it is — cynicism based on years of listening, observing and watching what happens around 4-H livestock barns and shows across Indiana. Only the most brazen, misguided person would alter an animal in public in plain sight. Perhaps even those most brazen few wouldn’t put it on paper.

Nearly 20 years ago, our oldest daughter, Allison, stood in a hog pen at the Indiana State Fair for an hour and a half, waiting for her seventh-place Landrace gilt to pee into a paper cup. Officials said the seventh-place spot in that class was selected in advance for a drug test. So, Allison waited, hot and nearly crying, for that obstinate gilt to do her thing. Crying? Yes. Even submitting your animal to a drug test can make one feel guilty. Come on — who would cheat to get seventh place with a Landrace gilt? Certainly not Allison!

Adding insult and cost to injury, the Indiana State Fair later instituted a drug fee charge for every exhibitor, whether their animal is ever tested or not. Some claim it’s hypocrisy, with the innocent paying the price for those who cheat.

Get serious

Do the drug fees and testing work? There were still disqualifications in 2021, long after the show ended. Will this new animal husbandry form stop cheating? Not a chance! Will it give authorities more ammunition to go after cheaters? Maybe.

There lies the ultimate rub. If authorities truly want to stop cheating, they already have all the ammunition they need. Enforce the rules on the books. They don’t need a new form. Some believe that if a 4-H’er is caught red-handed and cheating is confirmed, he or she should be banned from the Indiana State Fair for life. Some contend the whole family should be banned — and from all county fairs as well!

Is that harsh? Yes, it’s harsh. But if the goal is to stop cheating, it takes something harsh to send a message. And if you’re not willing to enforce the rules already on the books, don’t make new rules that only complicate things for innocent 4-H’ers while cheaters continue cheating.

Comments? Email [email protected].

TAGS: 4H Livestock
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