Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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January 19, 2006 -- Number 3, Volume 6

1. Animal Housing: Free-Stalls for Cows; Individual vs. Group Housing for Sows

COWS: An animal welfare expert from the University of British Columbia (Canada) says the dairy industry should reconsider using "free-stall" housing because it causes high lameness rates. He notes that most of the problems occur because of improperly built or maintained free-stalls, including stalls that are too narrow, that have poorly positioned neck rails, and that have objects that do not permit cows to lay down. The expert also mentions overcrowding as a major factor in cow welfare, and says that the further cows are kept from a stall's metal infrastructure, the more comfortable they feel. He ends by recommending an industry-wide move toward less isolating housing systems such as open or partitioned barns with sufficient bedding for comfort.

SOWS: Two animal scientists who presented at a symposium about the Canadian pig industry say that political pressure from animal advocates is leading the industry to consider how to "optimize the sow state of being." The scientists describe seven decisions that pig farmers should make to optimize sow welfare, beginning with delineation between what they term "animal rights" versus "animal welfare." The article goes on to describe eleven different "performance," health, and body-condition variables that are recommended to provide a comprehensive understanding of sow welfare. The variables include farrowing, weaning, culling, and mortality rates for both the sows and piglets, among other factors. The summary article is provided by the Animal Agriculture Alliance, a US-based industry trade group.

1. "Researcher: Get Out of the Free-Stall Rut," Dairy Herd Management, 1/9/06 (Registration)

2. "Assessing Sow State of Being Objectively: Genetic Implications," Animal Legal Alliance, 1/11/06 (

2. New Zealand Committee Releases Draft Welfare Code for Farmed Animals

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee of New Zealand has released a draft copy of a comprehensive new set of regulations for farmed animal welfare. The proposed "Animal Welfare (Commercial Slaughter) Code of Welfare 2006" would regulate several important areas: Minimizing animal stress; Hiring competent personnel; Using appropriate equipment; and effectively stunning animals prior to slaughter with a "guarantee of non-recovery." The proposed code is much more comprehensive than what we can cover here, but below are a few excerpts. A link to the full document is provided at the end of this section.

  • Animals must be handled and moved in such a manner that minimises distress.
  • All animals must be assessed for the presence of distress or suffering caused by physiological states, injuries, disease or other abnormalities, within 6 hours of arrival at the slaughter facility. Injured, abnormal or diseased animals must be treated appropriately to ensure their welfare.
  • Personnel inspecting animals must be competent at recognising normal and abnormal behaviour that indicate distress or suffering due to injuries, disease, physiological states or other abnormalities.
  • Animals that are unable to bear weight on all four limbs must be slaughtered as soon as possible in the situation they are found (as distinct from taking them to a slaughtering site) using a humane slaughter method.
  • Consideration must be given to the physiological state of all animals.
  • Only the minimum force required must be used when handling animals to minimise distress.
  • Animals must not be prodded in sensitive areas including the eyes, nose, anus, vulva or scrotum.
  • Poultry should be held by both legs and care taken to prevent flapping wings hitting solid objects. Poultry should not be held by the head, neck, wing or tail.
  • If birds are flapping their wings as they enter the water-bath stunner or if they show any recoil away from the surface of the water when they touch the surface, processing should cease until the problem is corrected.

1. "Public Consultation Draft Code of Welfare for Commercial Slaughter," New Zealand NAWAC, 1/12/06

2. "Animal Welfare (Commercial Slaughter) Code of Welfare 2006," New Zealand NAWAC, 1/12/06
PDF (691k):

3. EU Animal Welfare Label; USDA's "Healthy" Definition for Meat and Poultry

EUROPE: The European Commission (EC) is considering new animal welfare labels for food products based on strong feedback from citizens who perceive current farmed animal conditions to be very poor. For more on Europeans' views of farmed animal welfare, see the statistics section in FAW 6-2. According to a plan drafted by the EC and scheduled for public release next week, "There has been a clear shift of public attitudes towards animals over recent decades and how animals are considered in society." The EC plan reportedly outlines a series of monitoring protocols and animal welfare laws to be proposed between 2006 and 2010.

U.S.: The US Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is leaving unchanged the maximum allowed sodium content for meat and poultry products to be labeled "healthy." FSIS had been considering lowering the sodium limit for individual meat and poultry products from 480 milligrams to 360 milligrams, but decided to postpone the decision indefinitely. The sodium limit for "meal-type" products containing meat or poultry remains at 600 milligrams. Also in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a ruling to implement Congress's 2004 law requiring food manufacturers to label allergy-prone ingredients in clear language. Eight foods are responsible for about 90% of all allergic reactions, including four types of animal products: milk, eggs, fish, and shellfish.

1. "EU Considers Food Labels to Improve Animal Welfare," Reuters, 1/11/06 (

2. "Food Labeling; Nutrient Content Claims, Definition of the Term: "Healthy'', USDA/FSIS, 1/11/06

3. "New Look for Food Labels," Washington Post, 1/10/06

4. US Meat and Poultry Workers at Risk as OSHA Technicality Understates Injuries

Workers in the US farmed animal slaughter industry are at significant risk of on-the-job injuries including musculoskeletal problems and repetitive motion injuries. Poultry workers are particularly at risk. A 2002 Forbes article noted that workers on US chicken farms are "14 times more likely to suffer debilitating injuries stemming from repetitive trauma" than average private industry rates. A more recent Alternet article describes how in 2002 the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) changed the injury reporting form for meat and poultry farms. OSHA eliminated the category for musculoskeletal disorders, thereby allowing the meat and poultry industry to claim a 43% drop in injury rates the following year. Farm workers' conditions have been a frequent topic lately, including the 2001 book "Fast Food Nation" and a very critical report from Human Rights Watch in January 2005.

Another account of workers' conditions is provided in "Chicken: The Dangerous Transformation of America's Favorite Food," a book written by University of Arkansas anthropologist Steve Striffler. The manuscript, published in October 2005, details the author's personal experiences working in a chicken "processing" plant owned by Tyson Foods. The book provides a multifaceted criticism of the modern chicken farming industry, but does not directly address poultry welfare apart from recognizing their emotions, including fear. Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, contacted Striffler to ask about the stunning and slaughter methods he described in the book. Davis's review and her account of the follow-up discussions with its author shed further light on the welfare of both animals and workers in the poultry industry.

1. "Fowl Play in the Slaughterhouse," AlterNet, 1/4/06

2. "'Chicken' Reviewed by Karen Davis," United Poultry Concerns, 1/4/06

5. Recent Examples of Community and Legal Opposition to U.S. CAFOs

In the US, local governments are more frequently regulating Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) beyond the limited federal laws already in place. In FAW 6-2 we mentioned that a Township in Ohio is trying to change the definition of "agriculture" to allow regulation of CAFOs under business zoning laws. Similar efforts are ongoing in several US communities, a few of which we describe briefly below.

INDIANA: A proposed Senate bill would require the state's Department of Environmental Management to revoke permits for CAFOs that violate environmental regulations three times within two years. The new legislation would come at a time when Indiana is struggling to manage the environmental impact of the state's more than 2,000 CAFOs. The Indiana Agriculture Department has also set a goal to double the state's pig farming operations, currently the source of most environmental concerns.

NEW YORK: A landowner in Nichols, New York withdrew an offer to sell property for a proposed chicken farm due to pressure from neighbors and community residents. This is the second time a purchase has fallen through for the would-be farm developer who currently runs multiple chicken farms in Ontario, Canada. The Nichols operation was slated to house 180,000 chickens to be raised and slaughtered for their flesh.

KENTUCKY: Commissioners of Fulton County are expected to enact strict regulations on large pig farms that may be considered a nuisance to neighbors due to odor and other reasons. The new rules would require that all pig barns are built no less than 2,000 feet from "schools, homes, businesses and other structures." Currently the distance is limited to 1,500 feet. The rules would also increase the required setback distance from roads to 300 feet and enact a minimum distance of 5,000 feet between pig barns and city limits.

1. "Time to Look at Livestock Laws," Journal Gazette, 1/13/06

2. "Nichols Chicken Farm Idea Scrapped," Press & Sun-Bulletin, 1/10/06

3. "Fulton County to Add Hog Rules," Paducah Sun, 12/29/05

6. Bio-Engineered Fish with Unnatural Growth Rates Could be Sold by 2008

US-based company Aqua Bounty Technologies has genetically engineered a species of salmon that grows twice as fast as natural-born salmon, with fish farmers as the intended customers. The company attached part of a gene from an ocean pout to stimulate continuous growth hormone production compared to the natural intermittent hormone production activated by sunlight. The company is seeking approval from the US Food and Drug Administration, and its founder says he hopes to gain approval and start selling the fish by 2008. However, the company may yet face some difficulties given consumer and regulatory concerns about genetically engineered animals for human consumption. Researchers at the National Center for Cool and Cold Water Aquaculture are also investigating ways to speed up growth for rainbow trout and other commonly farmed species of fish.

1. "Salmon That Grow Up Fast," Business Week, 1/16/06

2. "Genes May Lead Way to Bigger Rainbow Trout," ARS News Service, 1/13/06

7. Other Items of Interest

"That's Foul! Lawmaker Targets Force-Feeding of Birds," / AP, 1/16/06
A state representative in Washington is proposing an immediate ban on the production of foie gras (force-fed goose or duck livers) and a ban on sales of foie gras beginning in 2012. Because no foie gras producers are located in Washington State, that aspect of the bill is meant to be proactive. The proposed legislation mirrors a similar bill in California signed by the state's governor last year. Commenting on his proposal, the lawmaker said, "We can probably do without it (foie gras), so I would just take torture off the menu."

"Animal Scares Create Demand for Vegetarian Ingredients," Food Navigator, 1/13/06
In Europe, concerns about farmed animal diseases such as avian influenza and BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) are driving growth of vegetarian alternatives to animal ingredients. According to one source, vegetarian versions of animal-based ingredients will likely grow to represent 30-50% of the market in the next 5-10 years. With an estimated 12 million (self-described) vegetarians in Europe, most of this growth is expected to come from non-vegetarians responding to animal diseases and other food scares.

"Avian Flu Transmission to Humans May Be Higher Than Thought," Newswise, 1/5/06
A study of more than 45,000 residents in rural Vietnam found that 26% lived in households around sick or dead chickens, and 18% reported having had flu-like symptoms. Overall, 85% of the residents surveyed reported keeping poultry in or near the home. The researchers concluded that contracting avian influenza may be much more common that previously thought, but also that the symptoms may be less severe. The full study appears in the January 9 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"$10 Million Awarded for Sequencing Pig Genome," The Pig Site, 1/16/05
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) gave $10 million to two University of Illinois researchers to fund work to sequence the pig genome. In partnership with US farmed animal industries, the Department is funding research to engineer pigs for commercial slaughter, organ transplants, and other human purposes. The pig genome is as complex as its human counterpart, with an estimated "2.5 billion base pairs located on 18 chromosomes, plus the two sex chromosomes."

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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.