September 15, 2014


 Agreement reached on sow housing

Posted Sept. 3, 2014

The AVMA will advocate giving pregnant sows room to move and housing them in ways that reduce stress.

Members of the AVMA House of Delegates voted in July to edit Association policy to add statements that pregnant sows should have enough space to assume normal postures and that housing and management systems for these animals should reduce exposure to conditions that result in distress and fear. The adjusted policy also encourages research on pregnant sow needs and training for those who work with sows. 

The AVMA House of Delegates modified the policy “Pregnant Sow Housing” to state, in part, that housing should do the following:

  • Provide every animal access to appropriate food and water;
  • Promote good air quality and allow proper sanitation;
  • Protect sows from environmental extremes;
  • Reduce exposure to hazards or conditions that result in injuries, pain, distress, fear or disease;
  • Facilitate the observation of individual sows to assess their welfare;
  • Provide sows with adequate quality and quantity of space that allows sows to assume normal postures and express normal patterns of behavior.

The AVMA Board of Directors submitted the resolution per recommendations from the Animal Welfare Committee. The American Association of Swine Veterinarians and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association both supported it. 

The Humane Society of the United States has been campaigning against the use of gestation stalls—a type of individual confinement typically involving stalls about 2 feet wide and 7 feet long—because of the restrictions they place on movement of the animals. Veterinarians who support use of the stalls have said that they prevent injury from aggression and they help in providing individual care.

AASV delegate Dr. Jennifer Stevens said prior to the vote that the proposed change was a well-considered compromise based in science, and it would provide a progressive step in ensuring good welfare for pregnant sows.

The Humane Society VMA had, through a petition, submitted a separate resolution that would have altered AVMA policy to state that pregnant sows should be able to stand up, turn around, and stretch their limbs. In a statement to the House, the petitioners, which included about 900 AVMA members and 1,000 veterinarians overall, said the change would “acknowledge and potentially lead to a correction of a significant welfare issue.”

But the Humane Society VMA asked to withdraw the petition. In a public statement, Dr. Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary adviser for the VMA, expressed support for the compromise resolution as a “step forward to improving sow welfare.”

“We commend the AVMA and its Animal Welfare Committee for moving in the right direction when it comes to ending the intensive confinement of pregnant sows in crates so small they can barely move,” the HSUS stated.

Dr. Tom Burkgren, executive director of the AASV, said in a meeting of delegates prior to the vote that the new AVMA policy could still hurt the pork industry if it were cited in a call for wholesale changes. He said a typical small or midsize producer would have more trouble absorbing costs of changing housing than would a larger company.

Dozens of companies—more than 60, by the HSUS’ count—have committed to eventually stop buying pork from companies that use gestation stalls. Those commitments have come from some of the nation’s largest grocery, fast-food, and food service companies. 

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