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SD Agriculture Secretary Walt Bones

OPINION: South Dakota can't legislate morality

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OPINION: South Dakota can't legislate morality
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

I was born on a livestock farm and have cared for animals for as long as I can remember. We had cats, dogs, horses and cows. They all needed to be fed, watered and cared for, and most times that meant I took care of those animals before I was fed, watered and cared for.


So, from an early age, my father and grandfather instilled in my siblings and me that we had a moral and ethical responsibility to care for our animals.

One summer, my dad came to me with a glass of water and wondered if I needed a drink. I was hot and thirsty, but looking at this murky, discolored water with some chunks floating in it was not what I was looking for, and I turned it down. My dad told me he had just taken that water from the cattle's water tank and wondered, "If you won't drink it, why would you make the cattle drink it?" Lesson learned.

I am intrigued by the current debate on issues like gun control and animal welfare because I see them as the same discussion. Unless we have engrained moral values, is it productive to attempt the legislation of behavior?

We have a whole myriad of laws and rules that try to deter humans from hurting or abusing other humans. Many of these laws are felony convictions, and in the most severe cases, the death penalty is invoked. With all these penalties (deterrents) in place, our prisons still house people that do not value human life.

I am confident our ranchers and livestock producers share my core values on the animal stewardship and husbandry practices required to be in the livestock business these days. Proper nutrition, housing, veterinarian-approved animal health protocols and technology may be the tools they use today, but it comes right back down to the fact that they care about the well-being of their animals.

South Dakotans cannot and should not condone any form of abuse to the animals we have in our care and custody regardless if they are a farm animal, work animal, companion animal or a pet. If simply putting additional or more severe laws on the books changes human behavior to other living things, controlling bad things in our world would be easy. So, I ask again, can society legislate morality, core values, or behavior?

We need to respect all life. and therein is our challenge, I believe.

Walt Bones is the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.