Geni Wren Animal welfare and improving, monitoring and evaluating it are a high priority for the American Meat Institute and its members. But animal welfare, specifically for cattle and swine, is a complex subject not without its own controversies.
At the 2012 AMI Animal Care & Handling Conference this week in Kansas City, Mo., veterinary experts discussed the interface between animal welfare and consumers.
Gail Golab, PhD, DVM, Dipl. ACAW, director of Animal Welfare for the American Veterinary Medical Association, said there are three areas of controversy:
1. Different people evaluate animal welfare differently. “One group thinks about what is going on with the body such as health, reproduction and growth,” she explains. “A second group focuses on the mind and how animals feel, and their pain, suffering, contentment and pleasure.” The third equates welfare with natural and how close does the animal find itself to if it was “free-living” in nature. Golab says we are looking at intersection of these three.
“The reality is that we stray from the center where these three intersect, and we get disconnects,” Golab says. “Physical” people are not as interested in the “natural” or “feelings” aspects of the others. “People gravitate to what has more return on investment for them.”
2. Controversy arises when we don’t proactively recognize and address public concerns. Three main concerns, says Golab, are animals in boxes or restraint, things “cut off” or modified without pain control, and injury/death of animals. “Consumers care about what, why, when and how,” she says.
3. When consumer expectations don’t match reality or perceptions of industry performance. “Animal welfare has two components,” Golab says. “’What is’ which is what we are actually assessing, and ‘what ought to be’, which is social perspective and ethical concerns.”
Golab says what determines social ethic is culture, traditions, science and economics. “People decide what they can and can’t live with.”
National Pork Producers Council Chief Veterinarian Liz Wagstrom, DVM, says in the pork industry there is a lot of emphasis on sow housing and gestation housing, but that there is an increasing awareness of animal welfare efforts that the industry has made in the areas of pain management at castration/tail docking, transportation issues and euthanasia.