by BETTER FARMING STAFF
Some surveys might show that animal welfare ranks low in public concerns about food production, especially when compared to food safety.
But an animal scientist with the Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine says the issue is of greater importance to people and warns that efforts to downplay or dispute their concerns will only jeopardize trust.
Speaking at the London Swine Conference on Thursday, associate professor of animal welfare Suzanne Millman said a 2007 survey of U.S. public opinion ranked animal well-being far lower than issues such as human health care and food safety.
But in another part of the survey, which was commissioned by the American Farm Bureau, 95 per cent of the respondents agreed that it was important to them that farm animals were well cared for, 81 per cent agreed that the animals have roughly the same ability to feel pain and discomfort as people and 75 per cent were willing to vote on laws requiring farmers to treat their animals better.
Millman says this survey and many others in the United States and elsewhere, indicate that people will put animals’ well-being before lower prices and want to see governments step in to regulate the treatment of farm animals.
There already exist precedents where animals are treated as ‘honourary humans’ under U.S. law, she says, pointing to the 2006 Pet Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act. The law requires any state wanting funding for emergency response to include the handling of animals in their emergency response plans.
She notes a U.S. survey shows nearly 60 per cent of U.S. households have pets: “That’s where most people are going to make their judgements from.”
What does this all mean to the pig producer?
Millman says producers both in Canada and the United States can expect to encounter increased public pressure to abolish sow stalls and farrowing crates as well as castration and tail docking without analgesia.
She urges producers to acknowledge the concerns and point out the ways the industry is trying to counter the specific issues. Suggestions include:
• If questions arise about animal housing, point out the use of items provided to enrich the environment, such as balls and chains pigs can play with.
• Do not permit animal abuse and cruelty, which is illegal.
• If euthanasia is required, always behave as if the procedure is going to be shown on the evening news. Use procedures that are endorsed by recognized professional bodies.
• Make sure you’re familiar with the animal cruelty and neglect provisions in national, provincial and local laws and make this information available to your staff.
• Document your compliance with these standards and track the date and time of training provided to staff.
• Train your staff on how to talk about animal care. BF