Welfare policies revised with strategic goal in mind

Induced molting, beak trimming among updated policies
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The Executive Board approved revisions to AVMA policies concerning the welfare of poultry and lambs and also accepted updates to the policy on veterinarians' responsibility to report animal abuse and neglect.

Additionally, the board approved supporting a change in the U.S. Equestrian Federation's drug and medications rule.

As part of the directive to AVMA committees and councils to review Association policies every five years, the Animal Welfare Committee looked at the Induced Molting of Layer Chickens policy approved by the House of Delegates in 2004.

The committee's evaluation included a literature review and preparation of a backgrounder. Input was sought from the welfare committees of the American Association of Avian Pathologists and Association of Avian Veterinarians, which concurred with the following revised AVMA policy:

Induced Molting of Layer Chickens

Induced molting of commercial layer chickens must be a carefully monitored and controlled procedure, with special attention paid to flock health, mortality, and bird weight. Neither water nor food should be withdrawn to induce molting. Acceptable practices include reduction of photoperiod (day length) and specific nutrient restrictions that result in cessation of egg production. Induced molting extends the productive life of commercial chicken flocks and results in a substantial reduction in the number of chickens needed to produce the nation's egg supply.

In revising the policy, the AWC members sought to make it more succinct while ensuring its continued focus on critical welfare concerns. The committee believed that adoption of the revised policy is consistent with the strategic goal established for animal welfare: that the AVMA be a "leading advocate for and an authoritative, science-based resource on animal welfare."

The board also approved revisions to the policy on trimming poultry beaks, which now states the following:

Beak Trimming of Poultry

Beak trimming of poultry should be practiced only when necessary to prevent feather pecking and cannibalism. Only trained and monitored personnel should perform beak trimming, using proper equipment and procedures that minimize pain, prevent excessive bleeding, promote rapid healing and prevent infection. The AVMA encourages the development of alternative practices, including genetic selection, or management of light or nutrition, which may reduce or eliminate the practice of beak trimming.

The policy was evaluated in accord with the review directive. A related backgrounder was completed and multiple iterations of review and revision were conducted. In addition to the members of the AVMA welfare entity, members of the AAAP and AAV animal welfare committees were also engaged in the process.

As with the layer chickens policy, the AWC believes adoption of the revised policy is consistent with the AVMA's strategic goal for animal welfare.

The committee also recommended minor revisions to the Animal Abuse and Animal Neglect policy, which was evaluated as part of the five-year directive. The updated policy reads as follows:

Animal Abuse and Animal Neglect

The AVMA recognizes that veterinarians may observe cases of animal abuse or neglect as defined by federal or state laws, or local ordinances. The AVMA considers it the responsibility of the veterinarian to report such cases to appropriate authorities, whether or not reporting is mandated by law. Disclosure of abuse is necessary to protect the health and welfare of animals and people. Veterinarians should be aware that accurate record keeping and documentation of these cases are essential. The AVMA considers it the responsibility of the veterinarian to educate clients regarding humane care and treatment of animals.

The AWC believes abuse or neglect of animals that is consistent in type and severity with that covered by cruelty laws and ordinances should always be reported to an appropriate authority. The final sentence was added to indicate that veterinarians may, at their discretion, take an educational approach to correcting less severe types of mistreatment that would not fall under legal definitions of abuse.

These revisions were made with input from the Committee on the Human-Animal Bond. Materials are being developed that will assist veterinarians in detecting and documenting abuse, and in taking appropriate action when they encounter incidents of animal abuse.

Another policy reviewed as part of the five-year directive had to do with the docking of lambs' tails.

After considering the available scientific reports and the practical experience of practitioners working with small ruminants, the Animal Welfare Committee believes there is an ongoing need for a policy cautioning against short "cosmetic" tail docking of lambs, as this can predispose lambs to health problems, including rectal prolapse. The new policy reads as follows:

Docking of Lambs' Tails

Lambs' tails may be docked for cleanliness and to minimize fly strike, but cosmetic, excessively short tail docking can lead to an increased incidence of rectal prolapse and is unacceptable for the welfare of the lamb. We recommend that lambs' tails be docked at the level of the distal end of the caudal tail fold and at the earliest age practicable. Because tail docking causes pain and discomfort, the AVMA recommends the use of procedures and practices that reduce or eliminate these effects, including the use of approved or AMDUCA permissible clinically effective medications whenever possible.

The Executive Board also approved the committee's proposal to send a letter supporting a rule change recommended by the U.S. Equestrian Federation veterinary committee.

The amendment would permit only one of seven currently permitted nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to be used at any one time. This approach is consistent with the AVMA-endorsed American Association of Equine Practitioners' policy on Therapeutic Medications in Non-Racing Performance Horses, the recommendation background noted.

The Equine Drugs and Medications Program of the USEF had requested a statement of support from the AVMA for the rule change.