Taking the lead in chicken, turkey welfare

AAAP symposium speakers initiate dialogue
Published on September 01, 2010
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By Greg Cima 

Dr. Bob Edson said he and other managers at Aviagen Turkeys would not have tolerated the abuses shown in an activist organization's undercover videos.

The organization contacted his company with allegations before the video's public release, and Dr. Edson said the supervisors he questioned about those allegations denied a problem existed.

Dr. Edson, vice president of operations at Aviagen Turkeys, was one of 10 speakers who talked about animal welfare-related issues and campaigns during the symposium "Animal Welfare Symposium: Reality, Perception, and Thinking Outside the Box," presented Aug. 1 in Atlanta as part of the American Association of Avian Pathologists Annual Meeting. Sessions for the AAAP annual meeting took place near sessions for the AVMA Annual Convention in the Georgia World Congress Center.

During his presentation, Dr. Edson advocated for implementation of animal welfare-related employee training, documentation, auditing, and enforcement of standards, along with an anonymous reporting mechanism for employees who find problems. He also suggested that internal or external audits could involve company-run undercover investigations.

Wes Jamison, PhD, an associate professor of communication at Palm Beach Atlantic University, said animal protection organizations run successful campaigns by showing consumers the differential attitudes those consumers have toward treatment of animals kept as pets versus for food.

Dr. Jamison also indicated that the veterinary profession, by emphasizing the importance of the human-animal bond, enables consumer hypocrisy, which is exploited by animal protection organizations. He argued that the AVMA should abandon advocating for the human-animal bond in favor of fighting for the right of animal owners to use animals as they choose, whether that entails companionship, food, or labor.

Some speakers encouraged symposium attendees to find common ground with the public, provide information on animal industries, and promote transparency of operations. Others presented information on improving processes and examining practices for providing employee training, developing welfare audit programs, and performing euthanasia.

Mike Bumgarner, vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation's Center for Food and Animal Issues, said people working in and with animal agriculture cannot be afraid to discuss and debate animal welfare issues. They also need to listen to consumers and explain the impacts of proposals on food safety, local production, worker safety, availability of food, and consumer choice. He encouraged them to draw attention to the agendas of animal rights groups.

Bumgarner said his organization met with Ohio's governor and representatives of the Humane Society of the United States about two weeks prior to a June 30 agreement that ended the HSUS' push for a ballot initiative that would have implemented new standards for livestock housing, euthanasia, and treatment of downer cattle. The agreement could lead to new standards for livestock housing and treatment, new regulations for dog breeders, new rules on ownership of some animals, and increased punishments for cockfighting, but he noted it is only a good faith agreement and not a legal document.

Dr. Mike Siemens of Cargill Beef, who provided the beef industry's perspective on animal welfare issues, said he expects federal legislation and harmonization of standards will become more likely as more congressional districts are affected by animal welfare-related campaigns. He said veterinarians in food production need to learn how to deliver messages about care and standards and to push for transparency in operations, as well as to find and condemn abuse.

Following the symposium, Dr. Thomas J. Myers, associate deputy administrator and chief policy officer for the Veterinary Services branch of the Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service said the presentations were timely, and he thinks the veterinary profession needs to regain leadership on animal welfare. He noted that organizations outside the veterinary profession have been driving public perception of animal welfare and animal treatment on farms.

Dr. Myers said members of the public often want to trust farmers but know none, and he thinks that veterinarians who work with food animal producers can help to put a face on the industry and show people where their food comes from. He also said his agency is examining its role in animal welfare standards and audits.