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The Animal Welfare Debate Continues

img_6182.jpg Animal welfare: it’s a phrase that’s been usurped by animal rights groups but is practiced daily by America’s livestock producers. Earlier this week, I was a featured speaker at the 2010 South Dakota Veterinary Medicine Association’s annual meeting in Sioux Falls, and I had the opportunity to listen to J.K. Shearer from Iowa State University (ISU) discuss animal welfare from the producer’s perspective.

Here are the top five things I learned from Shearer:

1. The animal welfare debate isn’t a new one. The earliest evidence dates back to ancient Greece, where dogs were kept as companions by people of all social classes. Upon the death of these pets, they even had gravestones with carefully written epitaphs. In fact, the earliest books published on radical animal welfare date back to the 1700s.

2. In the decades following World War II, farm-animal production became industrialized. Agriculture adopted practices using tiers of cages for laying hens, gestation stalls for farrowing hogs, and veal crates for dairy bull calves. The European Union saw a lot of resistance develop toward these practices in the 1990s, and that trend is now reaching the U.S., with ballot initiatives seeking to ban these practices in several states.

3. Looking at the debate practically, he says producers need to answer several questions and apply the realistic answers to their own operations. Is the animal functioning well? Is it productive? Is the animal feeling well? Does the animal have pain or disease? Is the animal able to live a reasonably normal life? Can the animal express normal behavior?

4. Shearer also mentioned the ban on horse slaughter, which has resulted in a question what to do with more than 9 million horses in the U.S. His question posed to the veterinarians in attendance was, “Is a ban on cattle slaughter next?”

5. “The reality is that no society in history has ever done away with animal consumption, though many have tried to do away with animal production,” Shearer says. “The point is, animal welfare is more important than performance, profit or winning cattle shows or rodeo events.”

How do you practice good animal husbandry on your operation? What things do you do on your farm or ranch to keep animal welfare as a top priority? How can we reclaim the term “animal welfare” and show consumers that modern agriculture methods keep the animal’s best interests in mind? For another perspective, read Kansas State University DVM Mike Apley’s recent piece in BEEF magazine, “The future of pain.”