Legislation signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory over the summer ensures that North Carolina’s farm animals are covered by a uniform standard of care throughout the state — by prohibiting cities and counties from enacting their own local ordinances in this regard. The responsibility for determining these standards now lies with the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
“The bill is an attempt to ward off a spate of local ordinances that could set different standards for housing, feeding, and caring for livestock,” commented Representative Chuck McGrady, the bill’s primary sponsor. “The bill specifically doesn’t restrict local governments from using their police powers to deal with issues relating to public safety or health,” he said. “In other words, a city could address an issue where horses weren’t being properly fed and were emaciated.”
Under House Bill 553, which passed with broad bipartisan support, “farm animals” include the following domesticated animals: cattle, oxen, bison, sheep, swine, goats, horses, ponies, mules, donkeys, hinnies, llamas, alpacas, lagomorphs, ratites, and poultry — and “standards of care for farm animals” includes the construction, repair, or improvement of farm animal shelter or housing, restrictions on the type of feed or medicines that may be administered to farm animals, and exercise and social interaction requirements.
This statewide legislation came in direct response to a local ordinance enacted by the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners which imposed civil penalties of as much as $250 a day on anyone who, for example, didn’t walk their dog enough or who didn’t provide their llama with adequate social interaction.
The county ordinance, which passed along party lines, met with significant resistance from the community.
Commissioners voting against the measure said that animal control officers shouldn’t be in the business of determining whether animals get enough exercise or social interaction, which the ordinance did not define. County Commissioner Joe Belcher, who voted no at the time, observed that “My definition of social interaction and somebody else’s might be different.”
“This change has implications for existing animal-related ordinances, specifically those related to animal cruelty and exotic animals,” writes Aimee Wall of the UNC School of Government. “Local governments will want to review their animal ordinances and enforcement practices to ensure their programs comply with this new limitation.” Her post, entitled “New Limitation on Animal Control Ordinances,” summarizes the new law and explores how this change intersects with existing state and local animal laws.
In North Carolina, local governments have no inherent powers; they only have those powers that are specifically delegated to them by the state legislature. Accordingly, the General Assembly has continued to allow local governments to regulate chickens — provided the flock doesn’t exceed 20 birds.