Don’t ignore public perception of livestock euthanasia

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Euthanasia is an uncomfortable and unfortunate reality of livestock production; however, a critical part of both veterinary medicine and livestock handling is to determine when euthanasia is necessary and how to do it humanely.

As Grant Dewell, DVM, MS, PhD, and Suzanne Millman, BSc (Agr), PhD, explained at a pre-conference workshop prior to the 4th International Symposium on Beef Welfare in Ames, Iowa, euthanasia isn’t just an on-the-farm issue anymore.

It’s becoming increasingly more important to be aware of how the public perceives pain, suffering and humane euthanasia as more and more consumers worry about how their food is grown or raised. It is important to realize a majority of the public is generations removed from the farm, and it is this gap between agriculture and consumers that makes it vital to openly discuss why euthanasia is an essential and humane aspect of animal welfare.

“Many of consumers are disconnected from animal agriculture, that’s why it’s helpful to discuss why we have to euthanize animals,” Millman told the packed room.

She referenced a 2007 American Farm Bureau survey to expand on her point. In the survey, available here, 95 percent of participants said it was important that animals on farms are well cared far. More than 80 percent believed farm animals experience roughly the same ability to feel pain and discomfort as humans.

As the survey shows, the public is concerned about animal welfare, and their perception has a strong influence on today’s agricultural policies and industry standards.

 Millman added, “The more confidence the public has in animal agriculture’s programs to safeguard animal care, the less likely we are to see them legally regulate our policies.”

Determining when to euthanize an animals and the most humane method to do it aren’t the only concerns. Those within the livestock industry must be cautious of the language used to avoid appearing or becoming insensitive.

Both Dewell and Millman are associate professors at Iowa State University.

Look in an upcoming issue of Bovine Veterinarian for more on euthanasia.



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Laura    
Vermont  |  August, 13, 2014 at 05:44 PM

"Beef welfare"? Beef, by definition to everyone not in the cattle industry, is the flesh of butchered bovines. There is no such thing as "meat welfare." Yes, language is important. If you're talking about bovine welfare, call it that. Where producers see fle$h, many others see sentient animals. The bias is revealed in the very name of the "Int'l Beef Welfare Symposium." While many consumers may be disconnected from animal agriculture by physical distance (city dwellers), at the same time many consumers are VERY connected to it--because they are increasingly mindful of what (and whom) they're eating and make a point of learning about where their food comes from, and how. Nearly everyone nowadays, regardless of physical proximity to farmed animals, has access to information that was unavailable in the good old days, when Old MacDonald's Farm was often blindly accepted as true and real. Today's beef and dairy industries underestimate consumers' knowledge about intensive confinement, dehorning, tail docking, castration without analgesics, etc., etc., maintaining that these are simply "routine husbandry practices." The word "cruelty" is a word worth examining. And to an increasingly educated public, inflicting pain and suffering on animals is cruelty, no matter how you slice and package it. Euthanasia is by definition an act of mercy, killing painlessly to relieve suffering, and is as applicable to situations with companion animals as it is with those on the farm. We know the difference between a cruel cull (unwanted bob calves are often victims) and acts of mercy. The public just doesn't just take Old MacDonald's word for it anymore. We think there's plenty of room for improvement, and regulation helps to ensure it


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