“To expect something like this of an animal just for traditional reasons should be completely rejected,” Nicole Brühl, president of the Bavarian branch of the German Animal Protection Federation, said on Monday.
Brühl pointed out that most grazing areas where cows are kept are fenced-in and that GPS trackers would be a better way of following the animals' location.
And she pointed to a study published in June by the Federal Technical University in Switzerland, which found that “the behaviour of the cows was disturbed by wearing a bell,” in a study conducted over three days.
Farmers rubbish harm claims
But Brühl has met with stiff opposition from the Bavarian government, farmers and tourist board.
“I don't believe that the bells annoy the cows – neither because of their weight nor their sound,” state agriculture minister Helmut Brunner said.
He argued that an electronic solution for tracking the animals is “not yet technically mature and still in the trial phase.”
Brunner was backed up by the chairman of the Allgäu Alps Farmers' Association Franz Hange, who called the activists' demands “total nonsense.”
“This is a tradition in the Allgäu and part of our identity,” Hage said, re-iterating that the bells did the cows no harm.
“Lots of hikers in the Allgäu would think something was missing” if the bells were removed, Allgäu tourist board spokeswoman Simone Zehnpfennig said.
“Cows wear the big bells for at most half a day during the splitting of the herds. And the small bells don't harm a single animal,” she added.
Zehnpfennig backed up the farmers further by pointing out that cows often break out of pastures despite electric fences and are difficult to find again without bells – especially when mist descends on the mountains.
Like Christopher Walken in the famous Saturday Night Live sketch it seems that Bavarian farmers and officials have a fever and the only prescription is more cowbell.