Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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January 5, 2006 -- Number 1, Volume 6

1. 2005 in Review: Summaries of Farmed Animal and Related News

Throughout 2005, news relating to farmed animals focused on diseases such as the global impact of Avian Influenza and the risk of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in the US. Several sources commonly cited in Farmed Animal Watch compiled summaries of related news and media in 2005, some of which are provided below. The first two articles below recap farmed animal issues from an industry perspective and focus on the resumption of "beef" trade with Japan, among other issues. The third article below is from animal advocacy and information group Animals Voice; it provides headlines and links to a long list of "victories" for farmed animals that occurred in 2005.

1. "Top '05 Livestock News Events: Cattle - Beef Bans, Bird FLU," / Dow Jones, 12/31/05

2. "Top Stories of 2005: Beef Issues Dominate Reader Interest,", 12/30/05 (Registration)

3. "Victories for Animals as Food in the Mainstream Media," Animals Voice, 12/29/05

2. Cows Choose Leaders Based on Intelligence, Confidence, and Experience

Intelligence, confidence, and a sense of purpose are the primary determinants of leadership in groups of grazing cows, according to new research. Herd leaders are also selected according to the animals' experience, with many older cows emerging as leaders when the herd moves to a new feed site. The research shows that a herd of cows will consistently follow a few leader cows when exploring new areas, although the scientists could not identify any obvious signal from the leader. The findings suggest that cows follow leaders who are more adept intellectually and socially as opposed to those who exhibit "bullying, selfishness, size and strength." According to the study authors, "We found that the same individual was recorded as the very first animal in 48% of movements toward a new feeding site and could therefore be identified as the 'leader'." The study appears in the November 2005 edition of Applied Animal Behavior Science and is based on observations made by a team of French researchers of 15 two-year-old grazing cows.

1. "Consistency of Animal Order in Spontaneous Group Movements Allows the Measurement of Leadership in a Group of Grazing Heifers," Applied Animal Behavior Science, Nov-2005

2. "Study: Cows Excel at Selecting Leaders," Discovery News, 12/22/05

3. Early Weaning Creates Problems for Piglets, Sows, and Farmers

In recent decades, North American pig farmers have decreased the time a piglet spends with his or her mother to as little as 14 days (on average) prior to being weaned. According to Canadian researchers, in the late 1970s, weaning would typically take place at 28-35 days, but those numbers dropped to 16-18 days on average by the early 1990s. Reasons for the reduced weaning time include “production efficiency,” disease prevention, and because today’s farmed piglets grow so quickly that they place an unhealthy demand on their mothers for milk. However, many farmers are now lengthening the weaning times to 19-21 days for healthier piglets. According to one researcher, “On the sow side it’s pretty clear as you go from 14, up to about 23-24 days, our subsequent live born increases by about 0.1 pigs for each day you increase weaning age.” In other words, it appears from this data that reducing the weaning time from 24 to 14 days leads to an average of one piglet death per sow beyond the typical mortality rate.

"North American Swine Industry Opts for Older Weaning Ages,", 12/31/05

4. Nebraska's Ban on Corporate Ownership of Farms Ruled Unconstitutional

A legal battle is developing in Nebraska over corporate ownership of farms and related agricultural operations after a federal judge ruled the state's Initiative 300 unconstitutional. Initiative 300 was voted into Nebraska's constitution in 1982 and was supported by the Farmers Union to protect small family farmers. The law states that corporations and syndicates cannot engage in farming or ranching, and that they can neither hold nor have any interest in land used for such purposes. The law also says that family trusts are exempted if at least one family member is "residing on or actively engaged in the day to day labor and management of the farm or ranch." According to the judge's ruling, the law violates the federal Commerce Clause because it "disrupts" interstate commerce and puts Nebraska at a disadvantage relative to other farming states. The judgment also declared the law in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act because of the physical requirements to qualify as a family trust. The ruling may also have broader implications because some states reportedly use Nebraska's laws to curtail the rapid growth of corporate farming. A similar ban implemented by voter referendum in South Dakota in 1998 was declared unconstitutional by a federal court of appeals in 2003.

1. "Neb. Attorney General to Appeal Ruling On Corporate Farming Ban,", 12/16/05

2. "End of I-300 will heat up local battles,", 12/23/05

3. "Judge: Nebraska's corporate farming ban is unconstitutional," Associated Press, 12/15/05

5. Avian Influenza: Risk May Be Greater for Fish Farms than Migratory Birds

A leading international bird conservation group claims that domestic poultry shipments and even fish farms show greater risk of spreading avian influenza than migratory birds. The group is seeking to protect wild bird populations from what they feel would be unnecessary and ineffective culling to prevent the disease from spreading. Scientists have been concerned about the role of migrating birds and avian influenza, but now the migration is nearing an end with few reports of the virus being transmitted in this manner. Instead, says BirdLife International, the three most likely scenarios for transmitting avian influenza are: 1) Trade in untreated poultry and poultry products; 2) Trade in wild birds; and 3) Use of poultry litter as a food supplement in fish farms and pig farms. The latter scenario is reportedly widespread in Asia and Eastern Europe, where scientists are worried that avian influenza tainted poultry feces could be spreading the virus through local waterways. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), however, denies that the risk of transmission from fish and other farms is so high. While acknowledging that the risk is real, FAO's chief veterinarian said it could be controlled with proper surveillance and spoke in favor of the practice of using poultry feces for fish farms. However, BirdLife International is calling for further investigation of the role of fish farms in both incubating and spreading avian influenza.

1. "BirdLife Statement on Avian Influenza," BirdLife International, 12/8/05

2. "Bird Flu May be Spreading via Plane, Fish Farm,", 12/29/05 (Registration)

3. "Expert Rejects Fears over Fish Farming Practise," Gulf Times / Reuters, 12/29/05 (

6. Upcoming Farmed Animal and Related Events

See or the links below for further details. To suggest other events that may be of interest to our readers, please email

7. Other Items of Interest

"Europe Bans Antibiotic Growth Promoters,", 12/28/05
As of January 1, 2006, the European Union banned the use of four remaining antibiotics used as growth promoters to treat chickens, pigs, cows, and other animals. The four antibiotics include Monensin sodium (used on cows), Salinomycin sodium (used on pigs), Avilamycin (used on pigs, chickens, and turkeys), and Flavophospholipol (used on rabbits, laying hens, chickens, turkeys, pigs, and cows). The use of antibiotics throughout the EU is now restricted to only legitimate veterinary purposes, according to the new directive.

"Animal Rights Group Funds Ethics Study," ABC News, 12/14/05
Australian animal protection group Voiceless has granted $10,000 (AUD) to Griffith University in Queensland to study children's knowledge and attitudes toward factory farming of animals. The results will be used to develop educational materials to engage children in the issue and encourage them to make more humane decisions that consider the welfare of farmed animals.

"The Farm Gate," University of Illinois Extension, Updated regularly
The University of Illinois Extension has launched a new web log ("blog") called "The Farm Gate," covering farming issues from the perspective of farmers and industry groups. The blog will focus on covering "integrated information across a variety of disciplines, including crop and animal sciences, agricultural economics, agricultural engineering and veterinary medicine."

"Movie Version of 'Fast Food Nation' Due this Year,", 1/5/06
Eric Schlosser's 2001 book "Fast Food Nation" gained widespread attention for its critique of the modern food industry and the commoditization of quick-service restaurants. Schlosser's book is now being made into a feature film featuring well-known Hollywood actors, directed by Richard Linklater, and backed by Fox Searchlight Pictures. Filming is reportedly nearing completion, but no release date for the movie has yet been announced. (Registration)

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Compiled and edited by Hedy Litke and Che Green, Farmed Animal Watch is a free weekly electronic news digest of information concerning farmed animal issues gleaned from an array of academic, industry, advocacy and mainstream media sources.