Animal Welfare in Perspective


JoAnn Alumbaugh, FarmJournal's Pork

October 3, 2019


The agenda for welfare commitments in food animals is primarily driven by ‘non-meat eater’ groups, says Jose Linares, DVM, manager for veterinary services at CEVA Animal Health. His presentation last fall to the U.S. Animal Health Association (USAHA) committee on animal welfare holds true today, noting that some requirements in the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Standards are moving targets. The GAP standards are often arbitrary or prescriptive and in some cases, the requirements don’t address sustainability in a balanced and holistic manner.


When a country’s people are hungry, it’s more difficult to implement and enforce animal welfare guidelines, but “food surpluses allow a society to grow, learn and work toward common goals including food animal welfare,” Linares says. “There’s some good in this debate, and we have improved animal welfare, but we have to be careful about moving the goalpost too quickly.”


The standards are particularly challenging when the conversation is driven by people who don’t understand the physiology of animals and their ultimate needs.


Linares’ overview focused on the U.S. poultry industry, but his comments have application in all species. Like the pork industry, the poultry industry has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Birds are larger and faster growing. The U.S. produces about 9 billion broilers that can grow to 4 lbs. in about 48 days. By comparison, broilers in Asia take about 12 weeks to reach market weight.


“They’re very skinny, but that’s what the people there like, and that’s okay,” Linares says.


At issue are several animal-welfare concerns in the GAP protocols, including light intensity, natural light, stocking density and breed selection. In addition, chickens that are given antibiotics, ionophores, beta agonists, sulfa drugs and/or arsenic-based drugs are prohibited from being marketed as “step-rated," which is considered punitive.


“It goes against the mission of veterinarians because if birds get sick and you need to treat them, you can’t give them what they need and still sell them within the GAP standards,” Linares says...