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AVMA Affirms Position Supporting Use of Sow Gestation Crates
The US-based American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has revised its policy on sow gestation crates, saying that "no existing housing system for pregnant sows is better than another." The revision provides a tacit endorsement of the current practice of housing pregnant sows in crates or cages so small that they cannot turn around. Conversely, the fact that AVMA calls for housing systems that "allow sows to express most normal patterns of behavior" and notes that individual crates restrict movement, caloric consumption, foraging, and social interaction. The revised AVMA policy emphasizes mitigating aggression among pigs in group housing and says that systems should be improved only when they are "economically viable" to farmers.
"AVMA Revises Pregnant Sow Housing
Policy," AVMA Journals, 8/1/05
3. UK Researchers Show BSE Can Pass from Mother Ewes to Lambs
The UK's Veterinary Laboratories Agency (VLA) has used a flock of sheep to demonstrate that Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) can be transferred from a mother ewe to her lamb. In 2000 the entire experimental flock was infected with BSE, with some ewes giving birth in 2003. This year at least one of those offspring died of BSE, confirming that "vertical transmission" is possible, something feared but not confirmed for cows. It is also still unclear at what point the disease is transmitted from mother sheep to the lambs, before or following birth. The VLA's findings suggest BSE may still be "lurking" among sheep in the UK despite rising confidence of its eradication after a 1988 ban on feeding cow parts to sheep. The agency will conduct more tests on the experimental flock to determine how widespread BSE has become and therefore how concerned farmers and consumers should be. Perhaps ironically, the VLA's discovery comes just as the UK completed a contingency plan to deal with the rediscovery of BSE among the country's sheep. The plan includes a "worst case scenario" under which as many as 25 million sheep would be killed to prevent spread of the disease.
1. "BSE Transmitted Between Sheep," The Guardian, 8/17/05
2. "Sheep Can Pass BSE to Their Lambs," Meatingplace.com,
3. "Sheep Can Pass BSE to Their Lambs," NewScientist.com,
4. Antibiotic Use on Poultry and Fish Farms Risk Resistance in Humans
In July 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned use of the fluoroquinolone family of antibiotics on chickens raised for human consumption. The move followed years of voluntary bans put in place by corporate farmers of chickens, pigs, and other animals. However, as the government takes a greater interest in legislating against antibiotic resistance, there are seemingly inconsistencies in public policy. Most recently, Alabama and Louisiana have banned sales of farmed basa fish imported from Vietnam that allegedly contain fluoroquinolone at levels comparable to those previously used on chickens. Critics of the state bans suggest the move is an economic one, however, as Alabama and Louisiana try to bolster their own catfish farming industries. The FDA is considering a national ban on importing the Vietnamese basa fish for health reasons.
In the UK, the BBC show "Real Story" recently ran a feature on the discovery that more than half of 147 samples of retail chicken products contained bacteria resistant to at least three types of antibiotics. Moreover, greater than a third of those samples were resistant to a specific drug used to treat human bladder infections. The resistant strains of E. coli, Campylobacter, and other bacteria may be responsible for the growing ineffectiveness of antibiotics for humans generally. However, both the British Poultry Association and the UK's Health Protection Agency (HPA) dispute the link to farmed animals and the BBC's assumptions. According to an HPA statement, "The science is not there to prove some of these assumptions and therefore the HPA does not support them."
1. "Drugs Named in Basa Ban Also Used on Poultry," Mobile Register, 8/20/05
2. "The Tide Turns in Battle to Rid Farms of Antibiotics,"
Boston Globe, 8/22/05
3. "Superbugs Found in Chicken Survey," BBC News Real
4. Press Statement: "BBC 'Real Story' Investigation,"
UK Health Protection Agency, 8/16/05
5. NY Dairy Farm Accident Dumps 3 Million Gallons of Waste into River
Hundreds of thousands of fish may have been poisoned and killed because of a massive manure spill at a large dairy farm in upstate New York. Approximately 3 million gallons of liquid manure broke through a lagoon wall, overwhelmed the drainage ditch, and spilled into the Black River that feeds Lake Ontario. A local reservoir has been opened to help flush out the river and officials are hoping for rain. According to one local restaurant owner, "There's always a smell that comes from the farmů (and) there were lots of dead fish going down." Besides the obvious environmental implications and fish deaths, the spill is also expected to impact tourism in the area. Ironically, two other upstate New York dairy farms each recently received $500,000 grants from the US Department of Agriculture to build manure "digesters." The digesters heat cow manure to at least 100 degrees, breaking it down to mostly methane gas used to power a generator. According to a Cornell University researcher, New York will soon have about 10 of the digesters, with a total of about 50-75 installed nationwide (in the US).
1. "Three Million Gallons of Liquid Manure Spill into Upstate River," Newsday, 8/11/05
2. "Cow Manure to Power Two Farms," Batavia News /
6. Avian Influenza: Europe Responds to Growing Threat Cited by Health Officials
In cooperation with the government of Malaysia, officials from the world's leading health and agriculture organizations met to discuss avian flu related "risk reduction measures in producing, marketing, and living with animals in Asia." The consultation notes that there have been 108 reported cases of humans infected by the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain, including 54 deaths. The document also notes that live animal markets in Asia not only pose a threat, but that such markets were instrumental to early outbreaks of avian influenza in Hong Kong and Vietnam. In both cases the disease was discovered among birds in live markets before being found on poultry farms. According to the consultation, live markets are risky in part because they involve "the keeping of multiple species together and in confined spaces; the stacking of cages on top of one another; and poor ventilation."
The human fatality rate of greater than 50% noted above "outstrips any human flu epidemic on record," according to the Washington Post. Besides the 54 people, hundreds of millions of birds have died of the disease or been killed by humans to prevent its spread (see below for details on numbers). The welfare implications of culling so many animals raised by humans in diseased environments are obvious. However, other less obvious preventive measures may also impact farmed poultry welfare; specifically, chickens raised "free range" or organically may be confined indoors to avoid contact with wild birds. The Netherlands and Germany have issued mandates requiring that all chickens be kept indoors. The regulations are in response to evidence that avian influenza is moving westward through Russia following bird migration paths. However, US and Canadian officials say moving animals indoors may increase disease risks because avian influenza and other viruses can more easily spread among confined birds.
1. "FAO/OIE/WHO Consultation on Avian Influenza," Wiener Zeitung,
2. "Britain Lets Poultry Run Free Despite the Threat of Bird Flu," Times On-Line, 8/23/05
3. "Scientists Race to Head off Lethal Potential of Avian Flu," Washington Post, 8/23/05
4. "Penning Poultry Indoors Doesn't Eliminate Risk of Bird Flu Spread: Officials," Canada.com, 8/24/05
7. Farmed Animal Statistics: 2004 Global Disease Roundup
Avian influenza has captured much attention
lately because of its potential to create a global
human flu pandemic. However, there are many diseases
related to breeding, raising, and slaughtering animals
for food. The World Animal Health Organization (OIE
by its French initials) publishes annual data on the
number of animals destroyed, slaughtered, and vaccinated
for each major disease. The OIE divides animal diseases
into two major groups, or lists: A, which are considered
more serious and international in scope; and B, which
are generally confined to individual countries and
considered of less serious consequence socially and
The table below shows the number of animals destroyed,
slaughtered, and vaccinated in relation to each disease
for the year 2004, according to the OIE database.
Note that the term "destroyed" refers to animals whose
bodies were not used in production, while "slaughtered"
is defined as having no restrictions on the use of
the body parts. The list below is ranked by the total
number of animals destroyed worldwide in 2004.
|"A" List Diseases, 2004
|Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza
|African Swine Fever
|Classical Swine Fever
|Swine Vesicular Disease
|Foot and Mouth Disease
|Peste des petits ruminants
|Contagious bovine pleuropneumonia
|Sheep and Goat Pox
|Lumpy skin disease
|Rift Valley Fever
|African Horse Sickness
Other sources of information
about animal diseases:
Geographical Distribution of List A Diseases, OIE
The OIE provides maps showing the presence or absence of A list diseases throughout the world and by region/continent for each of the last 5 years.
National Animal Disease Center, USDA
The largest animal disease laboratory in the US, divided into 5 program areas: 1) Periparturient Diseases (cows); Pre-Harvest Food Safety and Enteric Diseases; Bacterial Diseases; Respiratory Diseases; and Virus and Prion Diseases.
U.S. Domestic Animal Disease Surveillance Information, USDA
Provides basic information, statistics, and news relating to groups of farmed animals (by species) or by specific disease. Also provides data on most diseases by US state.
8. Other Items of Interest
BOOK: "Mental Health and
Well-Being in Animals," 8/23/05
A new textbook from Blackwell Publishing is the first of its kind to address the "Mental Health and Well-Being in Animals" (title), including those raised for food. The publisher's note begins with, "The past few decades have seen a virtual explosion of scientific research in the area of cognition, emotions, suffering, and mental states in animals." The book, which includes a chapter on farmed animals written by Temple Grandin, brings together research in these areas and includes "practical information" to improve the mental welfare of animals.
"Chickens Have Built-in 'Compass' to Find
their Way," Univ. of New England, 8/8/05
Researchers at the University of New England have shown for the first time that domesticated birds (chickens) use the earth's magnetic field for navigation. The study's lead author suggests the discovery has implications for poultry welfare, "For instance, now we know that chickens have this magnetic sense, we might be able to be more sensitive to their welfare when housing them in metal sheds."
"Cows Will Come Home to Milk Themselves,"
NineMSN / AAP, 8/23/05
A coalition of Australian companies, dairy farmers, and the government of New South Wales have formed a project called FutureDairy to test fully automated milking systems. Under the system, cows will "voluntarily milk themselves" at meal time, drawn by the lure of food. One government official calls the system "more natural" because the cows are milked as needed rather than on a specific schedule.
"US Retailers Back Plan for Aussie Wool,"
High-profile US retailers are supporting a recent agreement between People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Australian Wool Growers Association to end mulesing of sheep by 2010. The retailers include Gap, Inc., Liz Claiborne, Lands End, LL Bean, Eddie Bauer, Jones Apparel Group, and Ann Taylor, with a combined total retail power of $25 billion in annual revenue. The agreement would also hold live exports of sheep to the same standards as Australian sheep kept domestically.