Several delegates call for an end to the housing practice
After a long and sometimes impassioned debate, the House of Delegates on July 19 voted down a resolution to rescind the AVMA position that supports the use of sow housing configurations that meet specified standards for animal care and welfare. Instead, delegates passed a resolution calling for further scientific study of the issue.
Newly adopted Resolution 7 reads: "Resolved, that the AVMA determine to conduct a thorough and objective review of the scientific evidence relating to the impact on the health and welfare of keeping breeding sows in gestation stalls."
Delegates had been discussing Resolution 2, submitted by petition from the animal protection organization Farm Sanctuary, which asked the HOD to withdraw the position on pregnant sow housing adopted last July in Nashville.
That statement, proposed by the AASV, supports the use of housing configurations that minimize aggression between sows, protect sows from environmental extremes, minimize exposure to hazards, provide access to food and water, and permit observation of sow behavior and health.
It further states that current scientific literature indicates that individual gestation stalls meet these criteria, provided the appropriate level of stockmanship is administered.
Although delegates overwhelmingly supported the resolution last year, some, at the time, predicted the AVMA would be criticized for endorsing only minimal standards of care for sows. This year, several animal rights and protection groups did just that.
Prior to the HOD meeting, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and United Poultry Concerns staged a peaceful demonstration outside the Adam's Mark Hotel in Denver, where delegates convened. They were protesting the AVMA's position statements on induced molting and sow gestation stalls.
In the July 19 "Rocky Mountain News," Animal Rights International, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Farm Sanctuary, and The Fund for Animals sponsored a full-page ad claiming that the AVMA is in violation of the Veterinarian's Oath.
In anticipation of the HOD vote, Massachusetts delegate Dr. Peter Theran and a colleague distributed graphic photos of sows in stalls on a hog farm he said is in North Carolina. There were also photos of free-ranging sows and gestation stalls large enough to allow sows to lie down.
North Carolina delegate Dr. Joseph H. Kinnarney later took issue with the photos, calling them unrepresentative of his state's hog industry. "This is not a representation of my state, and I don't want us to pass a resolution based on unknown pictures of unknown hog operations," he said.
Also in anticipation of the vote, the AASV provided delegates with information about a soon-to-be-published, comprehensive study that reviewed numerous scientific reports on gestation stalls and concluded that the stalls do not adversely affect sow health and well-being.
In their comments, delegates were clearly split on which course to follow: make policy solely on the basis of the scientific evidence or, as Dr. Susan Clubb, Association of Avian Veterinarians alternate delegate, said, balance science with "compassion and intuition"?
AASV delegate Dr. David P. Madsen defended the use of sow stalls as supported by scientific data. Dr. Madsen explained how the swine herd has a dominance hierarchy maintained through aggression that can lead to injury. Over the years, stockpersons have recognized the need to limit aggression by limiting their interactions.
AASV alternate delegate Dr. Randall W. Larson stated that the AASV doesn't claim that gestation stalls are the best way to house sows. The stalls are, however, better than what were used in the past, he said, and the swine industry has been improving its husbandry practices for years.
Arguing in favor of Resolution 2, Dr. Theran said that if the AVMA continues to support gestation stalls, then the AVMA might as well relinquish its claim to be an advocate for animal welfare. With the pictures of the North Carolina hog farm raised, he asked, "Do we need science to tell us this isn't right?"
"If that's the position we take, it won't be us who solves this problem," he continued, referring to animal rights and protection groups. Indeed, last year, Florida residents voted to amend the state constitution to limit the use of gestation stalls.
As debate continued, some delegates attempted to introduce alternative resolutions to satisfy those delegates with moral objections to the practice.
After consultation with the parliamentarian, further consideration of Resolution 2 was postponed until a new resolution could be written and submitted to the HOD. A two-thirds vote by delegates allowed provisions of the AVMA Constitution governing the delivery and mailing or publishing of resolutions to be suspended so that the House Advisory Committee could convene to draft the resolution.
After a brief recess, the HOD reconvened and the newly written Resolution 7 was presented.
Still, some delegates thought the resolution didn't go far enough.
Pennsylvania delegate Dr. Sherbyn W. Ostrich complained that Resolution 7 still didn't address the matter of placing an animal in a stall too small for the animal to turn around. "All we're doing is delaying, delaying, delaying," he said.
Dr. Madsen thought the resolution shortsighted and suggested that it should direct the AVMA to review all forms of sow housing.
North Dakota delegate Dr. Charles L. Stoltenow defended Resolution 7, saying that it moves the veterinary profession forward. "We're not doing nothing about this issue," he said.
Delegates approved Resolution 7 then voted down Resolution 2, an action that had been recommended by the Executive Board, House Advisory Committee, and Reference Committee 2.
The American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners' alternate delegate to the AVMA, Dr. B. Taylor Bennett, was also a scheduled speaker at the convention. In the Sept. 15 issue, he explains the philosophy and history of the animal rights movement.