For several months, the American Association of Swine Veterinarians has been crafting its first position statement on the overall welfare of swine. The Pig Welfare Committee drafted the language and recommended it to the AASV board of directors, which approved the position Oct. 15 at its regularly scheduled meeting.
AASV Executive Director Tom Burkgren said the statement clarifies the organization's position.
"Swine veterinarians have been catching heat inside and outside the profession for being too closely aligned with the swine industry," Dr. Burkgren said. "This addresses our philosophy about that. There is no reason to criticize this (alliance) and villainize our relationship with our clients. For some misguided reason, people are wrongly correlating expertise with a lack of objectivity."
AASV Statement on the Welfare of Swine
The welfare of pigs is an accepted responsibility of pig stockpersons. We, as swine veterinarians, support and assist these individuals through education, and the diagnosis and treatment of conditions and diseases detrimental to the welfare of swine.
The care of pigs, as with any farmed species, requires study and discussion to improve the understanding of animal needs. The subjective component of evaluating stockmanship, along with the broad range of experiences, training and ethical frameworks in animal agriculture, has resulted in a challenging atmosphere to arrive at a consensus on swine care and housing methods.
Swine farmers are entrusted with the care of pigs and every day producers address a wide range of real and potential challenges to the welfare of pigs under their care. Swine veterinarians see this care delivered consistently and diligently by the vast majority of stockpersons. Nonetheless, we also see situations where the welfare of pigs is compromised. Compromised care is most often the result of lack of understanding or inattention by individuals and rarely the result of malicious intent or inadequate resources such as facilities, environment, food or water. It is the swine veterinarian's responsibility to work to remedy the situation through education about animal husbandry and alternative methods in order to improve pig care.
Swine veterinarians have been integral in these discussions in their day-to-day responsibilities as herd advisors, and now in the delivery of the Swine Welfare Assurance Program (SWAPSM). SWAP has been developed as a comprehensive review of pertinent pig welfare factors as defined by stockpersons, veterinarians and animal scientists. It is an assessment of the welfare of pigs and emphasizes education and diligence of producers, and supports the use of alternate rearing methods where present producer husbandry skills do not match the rearing methods in use.
It is thus incorrect and misleading to portray swine veterinarians as defenders of the status quo in the care of pigs, particularly gestating sows. We strive to educate farmers who employ a wide variety of production systems, to assess the welfare of sows across a range of indicators, and to offer alternative care strategies when deficiencies are observed.
As veterinarians, we have seen deficiencies in stall housing but we have seen significant and often greater deficiencies with other housing methods. Presently, producers and researchers are diligently examining alternative housing methods and will continue to do so. However, to simply present a prohibition of gestation stalls before clearly better alternatives are developed is irresponsible and detrimental to the sows, both through the error of imposing a housing method that is unsustainable and by drawing resources from other efforts that can be directed at improving pig welfare on farms.
We welcome the concern for the welfare of pigs from the public at-large and the veterinary profession in particular. We will continue to study and help develop alternate housing methods and will continue to pursue a better understanding of the determinants of good care delivery. However, simple prohibitions are shortsighted and not conducive to continual improvement of the welfare of pigs.