Q: The AVMA Task Force on the Housing of Pregnant Sows held its first meeting in November in Hoffman Estates, Ill. What are goals of the task force and what was accomplished at the meeting?
Dr. Tracy Rhodes, the chair of the AVMA Task Force on the Housing of Pregnant Sows and Executive board member representing District 9, responds:
A:Our charge is to come up with a position statement for the AVMA on this subject, which we will forward to the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee to review. That committee will make comments on it and forward it to the AVMA Executive Board, which will make the final decision on what type of position the AVMA will take on sow housing and whether any further actions will be needed.
The task force comprises quite a diverse group of people with lots of different expertise. At our first meeting, we undertook a literature review of papers that we thought might be representative of the research and scientific knowledge on the housing of pregnant swine. Prior to this meeting, each member of the task force received copies of the papers that had been gathered—there were more than 1,000 pages of material. The literature was broken up into subjects—physiology, health, production, behavior and cognition, ethics, and economics—and each member was assigned a subject and asked to lead the discussion on that subject.
We met for two full days and spent the third day attending the AVMA Animal Welfare Forum, which covered sow housing. We heard many perspectives at the forum. I think everybody who talks about this subject has a little bit different view on it. I thought it was very interesting to hear the perspectives in person; it's a little different than reading papers. Also, there was a question-and-answer portion of the forum where members of the audience questioned the speakers. All in all, I thought we got a lot of added information, hearing from the public that day.
Q: What's the next step for the task force?
A: After we had gone through the literature, a few things became apparent. One was that there is more literature out there. Each task force member was asked to find other papers that they thought might be pertinent to the subject and to submit those, so we can consider them at our next meeting, this spring. Also, we asked each member to try to come up with some kind of synopsis of the literature review, and maybe where it is leading us.
Q: Are you happy with the progress the task force is making?
A: This was a new experience for me. I think the task force comprises some very brilliant people, some very astute minds. Because it is a diverse group, we have some varying opinions and attitudes on things. I do feel the group has interacted very well and brought out a lot of the contentious items that have divided people on both sides of the fence. On this subject, it's going to be very difficult to come to a 100 percent agreement on the wording of a position. We are going to try to boil down the language to what the scientific literature will verify.
At our meeting this spring, we're going to review any literature that was neglected at the first meeting. Hopefully, we'll be able to develop an outline. We have to narrow this down to an itemized list that we can bear down on and, in the most scientific way, use to make a decision. Revisions could follow. I don't know how quickly we can do that. There's always some kind of new information that might affect what we do.
Q: What do you think veterinarians should know about this issue?
A: I guess from the preliminary literature review and from what was said by the speakers at the forum, it is difficult to find a housing system that is 100 percent accepted by all the people who are looking at this issue. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of the different pregnant sow housing systems being used in the industry.