After six years, could the issue finally be settled?
The practice of withholding feed from laying hens to induce molt is no longer an acceptable practice, according to an amendment approved July 24 by the AVMA House of Delegates.
The revised portion of the AVMA policy states that neither water nor food should be withdrawn from hens to initiate a biological event meant to increase the birds' egg production. (The AVMA was already opposed to water withdrawal.)
By approving Resolution 6, submitted by the American Association of Avian Pathologists, AVMA delegates gathering in Philadelphia have likely settled a long-running debate about the humaneness of a controversial practice.
"We have a resolution on this matter with wording that will finally put this to bed, once and for all," said Association of Avian Veterinarians delegate, Dr. James M. Harris.
Originally, the HOD was asked to approve Resolution 2, reportedly initiated by the Association of Veterinarians for Animal Rights for a sixth consecutive year. That resolution stated the AVMA opposes induced molting through the use of food and/or water withdrawal.
The AVMA Executive Board and House Advisory Committee had previously recommended disapproval of Resolution 2 by the HOD. Yet on July 23, members of HOD Reference Committee 2, which reviews public matters before the AVMA, narrowly voted to recommend approval of the resolution.
During the committee's deliberations, New Jersey delegate, Dr. Robert P. Gordon, asked committee members whether they as veterinarians could honestly defend the practice of intermittently withholding food from laying hens.
If there were any evidence of induced molting harming chickens, said AAAP alternate delegate, Dr. Gregg J. Cutler, he would lead the fight to end the practice.
Dr. Harold J. Davis, Utah delegate, worried that the HOD's approval of Resolution 2 would lead to a flood of similar resolutions directing the AVMA to take a stand on any number of welfare issues.
When the entire HOD convened the next day, delegates were presented with Resolution 2 and a new resolution, Resolution 6, which also was a proposed revision to the current AVMA policy on induced molting.
The amended portion reads:
The commercial induced molting procedure is carefully monitored and controlled. Acceptable practices include reduction of photoperiod (day length) and dietary restrictions (including diets of low nutrition density) that result in cessation of egg production. Neither water nor food should be withdrawn. Special attention should be paid to flock health, mortality, and bird weight. Egg quality and safety should be monitored through an egg quality assurance program. The welfare of birds should be a major consideration in this and any management practice.
AAAP delegate, Dr. Y. M. Saif, asked that the HOD rules be suspended to allow consideration of the new resolution. The meeting was then briefly recessed so the House Advisory Committee could review the new resolution, which they subsequently recommended for approval.
When the issue of induced molting first came to the HOD, Dr. Saif explained, the AAAP promised to fully study the matter. Resolution 6 reflects advances in research that provide dietary tools for inducing molt without food withdrawal, he said.
"This resolution does two things," observed Dr. John H. de Jong, Massachusetts delegate. "It addresses the science that we've been asking for, and it also addresses the emotion of the people who feel strongly about this issue."
After they voted in favor of Resolution 6, delegates disapproved Resolution 2.
AVAR vice president and AVMA member, Dr. Holly Cheever, said later, "We are satisfied with Resolution 6 in that, if you sort through all the verbiage and the several paragraphs, you'll find, 'neither water nor food should be withdrawn.'
"That is the single, sole point that the AVAR has been trying to make these many years."