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PEW Report on Industrial Scale Farm Animal Production

Summarized by Rita Kesteven for the Canadian Coalition for Farm Animals

Full report (as a pdf) is available at www.ncifap.org

"The current industrial farm animal production (IFAP) system often poses unacceptable risks to public health, the environment and the welfare of the animals themselves." That is the view of an American commission, The Pew Commission on Industrial Scale Farm Animal Production, (PCIFAP), set up in 2006 by the Pew Charitable Trusts and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health composed of 15 experts in various fields including animal welfare and veterinary medicine. The group conducted site visits across the USA, in addition to consulting broadly with stakeholders and the public, and reviewing technical reports and staff research.

Their April 2008 report, Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America, says that "the negative effects of the IFAP system are too great and the scientific evidence is too strong to ignore. Significant changes must be implemented and must start now.”

A complete list of commissioners and the report’s verbatim recommendations on animal welfare follows this summary.

Over the past 50 years, animal agriculture has expanded rapidly due to cheap feed, water and energy; but the family farms that once exercised autonomous control over animal husbandry have almost vanished. "The industrialization of American agriculture has transformed the character of agriculture itself and, in so doing, the face of rural America. The family-owned farm producing a diverse mix of crops and food animals is largely gone as an economic entity, replaced by ever-larger operations producing just one animal species." The report points out that the increased economic efficiency in IFAP operations does not necessarily benefit local communities, but may in fact harm them.

As for animal welfare - the report notes that IFAP methods " have generated concern and debate over just what constitutes a reasonable life for animals and what kind of quality of life we owe the animals in our care. It is an ethical dilemma that transcends objective scientific measures, and incorporates value-based concerns." Physical health may be enhanced by lack of predation, and some disease control. "It is clear, however, that good animal welfare can no longer be assumed based only on the absence of disease or productivity outcomes. Intensive confinement (e.g., gestation crates for swine, battery cages for laying hens) often so severely restricts movement and natural behaviours, such as the ability to walk or lie on natural materials, having enough floor space to move with some freedom, and rooting for pigs, that it increases the likelihood that the animals suffer severe distress." This inhumane treatment fuels consumer concerns about the welfare of the animals they eat.

Commissioners also observe: "Good animal welfare can also help to protect the safety of our nation's food supply. Scientists have long recognized that food safety is linked to the health of the animals that produce the meat, dairy and egg products that we eat. In fact, scientists have found modern intensive confinement production systems can be stressful for food animals, and that stress can increase pathogen shedding in animals." Sixty-four per cent of human pathogens are zoonotic, and the Commission recommends the creation of a single Food Safety Administration to combine duties now shared among agencies such as the FDA, USDA, EPA and others.

Public health concerns revolve around the potential for developing and transmitting new and old zoonotic pathogens. When large numbers of animals are kept together in close confinement, stress may increase the risk of infection and sickness in the animals, contributing to the development of new strains of viruses, and bacteria with antimicrobial resistance. Epidemiological studies have found that air emissions from IFAP systems result in respiratory and neurobehavioural symptoms, and impaired function among local residents.

IFAPs generate large concentrations of animal waste that pollute the water and soil. Untreated manure, containing nutrients and heavy metals, pesticides and pharmaceuticals spread on cropland, leaches into soil and waterways, polluting groundwater and causing eutrophication of surface water, which kills off much plant and aquatic life. Other problems include greenhouse gas emissions, toxic and odorous gases, and germ-laden particulates and bioaerosols. The report urges that the federal, state, and local governments begin collecting data on emissions in air, soil, ground and surface water, and health effects, such as disease, injuries, and allergies.

Prominent among the Commission's recommendations are:

In conclusion, PCIFAP Chair (and former dairy farmer) John Carlin says: "The goal of this Commission is to sound the alarms that significant change is urgently needed in industrial farm animal production. I believe that the IFAP system was first developed simply to help increase farmer productivity and that the negative effects were never intended. Regardless, the consequences are real and serious and must be addressed."

Vice-chair Michael Blackwell believes: "Long-term success will depend on the nation's ability to transform from an industrial economy that depends on quickly diminishing resources to one that is more sustainable, employing renewable resources and understanding of how all food production affects public health and the environment.”

Commissioner and rancher Fred Kirschenmann adds: "The real energy transition will have to be from an energy input system to an energy exchange system, and ... is likely to entail significant system changes in the U.S. production of crops and livestock.”

Recommendations about animal welfare from Putting Meat on the Table: Industrial Farm Animal Production in America

Recommendation #1

The animal agriculture industry should implement federal performance-based standards to improve animal health and well-being.

  1. The federal government should develop performance-based (not resource-based) animal welfare standards. Animal welfare has improved in recent years based on industry research and consumer demand; the latter has led, for example, to the creation of the United Egg Producers’ certification program and the McDonald’s animal welfare council. However, in order to fulfill our ethical responsibility to treat farm animals humanely, federally monitored standards that ensure at least the following minimum standards for animal treatment:
    1. Good feeding: Animals should not suffer prolonged hunger or thirst
    2. Good housing: Animals should be comfortable especially in their lying areas, should not suffer thermal extremes, and should have enough space to move freely;
    3. Good health: Animals should not be physically injured and should be free of preventable disease related to production; in the event that surgical procedures are performed on animals for the purposes of health or management, modalities should be used to minimize pain; and
    4. Appropriate behaviour: Animals should be allowed to perform normal non-harmful social behaviours as much as reasonably possible; animals should be handled well in all situations (handlers should promote good human-animal relationships); negative emotions such as fear, distress, extreme frustration, or boredom should be avoided.
  2. Implement a government oversight system similar in structure to that used for laboratory animal welfare: Each IFAP facility would be certified by an industry-funded, government-chartered, not-for-profit entity accredited by the federal government to monitor IFAP. Federal entities would audit IFAP facilities for compliance. Consumers could look for the third-party certification as proof that the production process meets federal farm animal welfare standards.
  3. Change the system for monitoring and regulating animal welfare, recommend improvements in animal welfare as science, and encourage consumers to continue to push animal welfare policy. Improved animal husbandry practices and an ethically based view of animal welfare will solve or ameliorate many IFAP animal welfare problems.
  4. Federal standards for farm animal welfare should be developed immediately based on a fair, ethical, and evidence-based understanding of normal animal behaviour.

Background

There is increasing, broad-based interest in commonsense, husbandry-based agriculture that is humane, sustainable, ethical and a source of pride to its practitioners. Proper animal husbandry practices (e.g., breeding for traits besides productivity, growth and carcass condition) and animal management are critical to the welfare of farm animals, as well as to the environment and public health. Evaluating animal without taking into account animal health, husbandry practices, and normal behaviours for each species is inadequate and inappropriate.


Recommendation #2

Implement better animal husbandry practices to improve public health and animal well-being.

  1. Change breeding practices to include attributes and genetics besides productivity, growth, and carcass condition; for example, hogs might be bred for docile behaviour, fowl for bone strength and organ capacity, and sows, dairy and beef cattle for “good” mothering. In recent decades, farm animals have been selectively bred for specific physical traits (e.g., fast growth, increased lean muscle mass, increased milk production) that have led to greater incidence of and susceptibility to transmissible disease, new genetic diseases, a larger number and scope of mental or behavioural abnormalities, and lameness.
  2. Improve and expand the teaching of animal husbandry practices at land-grant universities.
  3. Federal and state governments should fund (through tax incentives and directed education funding, including for technical colleges) the training of farm workers and food industry personnel in sustainable, ethical animal husbandry.
  4. Diversity the type of farm animal production systems taught at land-grant schools beyond the status quo IFAP system
    1. Increase funding for the teaching of good husbandry and alternative production techniques through local extension offices.
    2. Work to reduce and eliminate “production diseases,” defined as diseases caused by production management or nutritional practices; liver abscesses in feedlot cattle are an example of a production disease.

Background

The use of better husbandry practices in IFAP can eliminate or alleviate many of the animal welfare and public health issues that have arisen because of IFAP confinement practices.


Recommendation #3

Phase out the most intensive and inhumane production practices within a decade to reduce IFAP risks to public health and improve animal well-being; these practices should include the following:

 

  1. Gestation crates where sows are kept for their entire 124-day gestation period. The crates do not allow the animals to turn around or express natural behaviours, and they restrict the sow’s ability to lie down comfortably. Alternatives such as open feeding stalls and pens can be used to manage sows.
  2. Restrictive farrowing crates, in which sows are not able to turn around or exhibit natural behaviour. As an alternative, farrowing systems (e.g., the Freedom Farrowing System, Natural Farrowing Systems) provide protection protection to the piglets while allowing more freedom of movement for the sow.
  3. Any cages that house multiple egg-laying chickens (commonly referred to as “battery cages”) without allowing the hens to exhibit normal behaviour (e.g., pecking, scratching, roosting).
  4. The tethering and/or individual housing of calves for the production of white veal. This practice is already rare in the United States, so its phase-out can be done quickly.
  5. Forced feeding of fowl to produce foie gras.
  6. Tail docking of dairy cattle.
  7. Forced molting by feed removal for laying hens to extend the laying period (for the most part, this has been phased out by UEP standards implemented in 2002).

Background

Certain IFAP practices cause animal suffering and should be phased out in favour of more humane animal treatment. While all the practices listed above should be eliminated as soon as possible (i.e., within 10 years), current technology and best practices may limit their short-term phase-out. The phase-out plan should include tax incentives, such as accelerated depreciation for new and remodelled structures, targeted to regional and family operations.


Recommendation #4

Improve animal welfare practices and conditions that pose a threat to public health and animal well-being; such practices and conditions include the following:

  1. Flooring and housing conditions in feedlots and dairies: cattle kept on concrete, left in excessive amounts of feces, and/or not provided shade and/or misting in hot climates.
  2. Flooring and other housing conditions at swine facilities: hogs that spend their entire lifetime on concrete are prone to higher rates of leg injury.
  3. The method of disposal of unwanted male chicks and adult fowl in catastrophic situations that require the destruction of large numbers of birds.
  4. Hand-catching methods for fowl that result in the animals’ broken limbs, bruising, and stress.
  5. Body-altering procedures that cause pain to the animals, either during or afterward.
  6. Air quality in IFAP buildings: gas build-up can cause respiratory harm to animal health and to IFAP workers through exposure to gas build-up, toxic dust, and other irritants.
  7. Ammonia burns on the feet and hocks of fowl due to contact with litter.
  8. Some weanling practices for piglets, beef cattle, and veal calves: the shortening of the weaning period or abrupt weaning to move the animal to market faster can stress the animals and make them more vulnerable to disease.

The federal government should act on the following recommendations to improve animal welfare:

  1. Strengthen and enforce laws dealing with the transport of livestock by truck. Transport laws should also address the overpacking of livestock during transportation, long-distance transport of farm animals without adequate care, and transport of very young animals.
  2. The federal government must include fowl under the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.

Background

Certain IFAP practices need to be improved to provide a more humane experience for the animal. Those listed above should be carefully examined for humaneness and remedied as appropriate, taking into account available methodology and current best practices.


Recommendation #5

Improve animal welfare research in support of cost-effective and reliable ways to raise food animals while providing humane animal care.

  1. There is a significant amount of animal welfare research being done, but the funding often comes from special interest groups. Some of this research is published and distributed to the agriculture industry, but without acknowledgment of the funding sources. Such lack of disclosure taints mainstream animal welfare research. To improve the transparency of animal research, there needs to be the disclosure of funding sources for peer-reviewed published research. Much of today’s agriculture and livestock research, for example, comes from land-grant colleges with animal science and agriculture departments that are heavily endowed by special interests or industry. However, a lot of very good research on humane methods of stunning and slaughter has been funded by the industry.
  2. More diversity in the funding sources for animal welfare research is also needed. Most animal welfare research takes place at land-grant institutions, but other institutions should not be barred from engaging in animal welfare research due to lack of research funds. The federal government is in the best position to provide unbiased animal welfare research; therefore federal funding for animal welfare research should be revived and increased.
  3. Focus research on animal-based outcomes relating to natural behaviour and stress, and away from physical factors (e.g., growth, weight gain) that do not accurately characterize an animal’s welfare status except in the grossest sense.
  4. Include ethics as a key component of research into the humaneness of a particular practice. Scientific outcomes are critical, but whether a practice is ethical must be taken into account.

Background

While there is a large amount of peer-reviewed research on animal welfare issues being done today, there is room to improve the quality and focus of that research. More diversity in the funding sources for animal welfare research is needed. While land-grant institutions are where most animal welfare research takes place, other institutions should not be barred from engaging in animal welfare research due to lack of research funds. Federal funding for animal welfare research should be revived and increased. The Federal government is in the best position to provide unbiased animal welfare research.


List of Commissioners