Welfare policies revised and adopted

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The AVMA has revised several of its food animal welfare policies and adopted a policy concerning the use of electromuscular disruption devices (eg, stun guns and devices sold under the trade name Taser) on animals.

After reviewing the cattle ovariectomy policy, the Animal Welfare Committee reaffirmed its opposition to performing flank ovariectomy without anesthesia and recommended to the Executive Board that colpotomy be recognized as the preferred approach.

Ovariectomy in Cattle

Ovariectomy or "spaying" in cattle is a surgical procedure performed to avoid unwanted pregnancy of animals in areas where females cannot be segregated from males and where extensive grazing conditions prohibit control of estrus through feed additives. The AVMA considers flank ovariectomy, if performed without anesthesia, to be inhumane. Ovariectomy by colpotomy is the preferred technique. When ovariectomy is deemed necessary, the procedure should be performed using appropriate restraint and aseptic technique. Research leading to new or improved techniques that reduce or eliminate pain and discomfort associated with ovariectomy, or development of viable alternatives to ovariectomy, is encouraged.

As part of the committee's evaluation, a literature and practical review was conducted, and a backgrounder was prepared. AVMA backgrounders and new and revised policies are posted on the AVMA Web site in the Reference section under "Policy."

The policy "Disabled Livestock" was amended to clarify that livestock that become nonambulatory while at a terminal market such as a slaughterhouse or packing plant should be immediately euthanized, and not taken to slaughter. An exception was included to allow swine that were not in extreme distress and did not have an obviously irreversible condition to be allowed up to two hours to recover.

The change was recommended in the hope that it will improve understanding of the policy by the AVMA membership and other interested parties.

The Executive Board approved a replacement policy addressing the housing of layer chickens.

The new policy stems from the Animal Welfare Committee's evaluation of the literature and practical review as well as input from the American Association of Avian Pathologists' and Association of Avian Veterinarians' animal welfare committees, which agreed with the revisions. A backgrounder is posted online.

Layer Hen Housing Systems

Laying hen housing systems must provide feed, water, light, air quality, space and sanitation that promote good health and welfare for the hens. Housing systems should provide for expression of important natural behaviors, protect the hens from disease, injury and predation, and promote food safety. Participation in a nationally recognized, third-party audited welfare program is strongly advised.

In creating the replacement policy, AWC members sought to make it more succinct while ensuring it continues to focus on critical welfare concerns, across laying hen housing types. The committee believes the replacement policy is consistent with both the current science and the practical realities of production.

The board also approved proposals to replace the AVMA policy on swine castration, tail docking, and identification with two new policies. Backgrounders on both policies are available online.

Swine Castration

Castration of swine can help control aggressive behavior and improve the palatability of pork. Current U.S. swine markets do not allow for mass marketing of uncastrated male pigs. Castration is a painful surgical procedure and should be performed as early as possible, preferably by 14 days of age. Surgical wounds should be healed prior to weaning. After 14 days of age, swine should be castrated using analgesia and/or anesthesia. The AVMA recommends the use of procedures and practices that reduce or eliminate pain, including the use of approved or AMDUCA-permissible clinically effective medications whenever possible. The AVMA encourages development and implementation of practical analgesic and anesthetic protocols for, and alternatives to, swine castration.

Tail Docking and Teeth Clipping of Swine

Tail docking is performed to prevent tail biting and cannibalism among pigs. Tail docking should be performed as early as possible, but by 14 days of age.

Teeth clipping is performed as necessary to prevent trauma to the sow's teats and snouts of other piglets (due to the presence of sharp canine teeth at birth). Farms may minimize the need for clipping piglets' teeth altogether by cross fostering between litters.

The AVMA recommends the use of procedures and practices that reduce or eliminate pain, including the use of approved or AMDUCA-permissible clinically effective medications whenever possible.

The Animal Welfare Division recommended and the board approved adopting the policy opposing the routine use of electromuscular disruption devices on animals.

Use of Electro Muscular Disruption Devices (EMDDs) on Animals

EMDDs may be used as a defensive tool to provide an Animal Control or Law Enforcement Officer with non-lethal force in response to aggressive dogs or similar sized animals in accordance with agency training, policies and procedures.

EMDDs can be lethal and should not be used on cats or other small animals.

AVMA members had contacted the Animal Welfare Division to express concern about improper use of Tasers and stun guns to restrain or subdue wildlife and stray companion animals, such as dogs.

The Animal Welfare Committee conducted a review of the issue and was supportive of the position of the National Animal Control Association that these devices may be used in self-defense to prevent injury from an attacking animal, but should not be considered a valid method for capturing or restraining an animal under routine animal control or law enforcement circumstances.

Members of the AWC believe that physical and chemical methods of capture and restraint are available that are safer for both humans and animals and, therefore, an EMDD should not be employed in non-emergency situations. A backgrounder on the use of EMDDs is available online.