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

1. Pig Welfare: Fatigue, Injuries, and Death from Stress Prior to Slaughter

Texas Tech University animal specialist and pig expert John McGlone recently completed an extensive study of the fatigue and death of farmed pigs prior to slaughter. The findings will be presented as a four-part series in Pork Magazine, with the first two parts already published and available at the links below. The two articles provide detailed statistics from a one-year study of large US pig farms and McGlone's estimates for the overall industry.

The rates of "dead or wounded pigs" range dramatically at the different farms included in the study, with a low end of about 0.25% and an upper end of about 2.2%. Each farm raises more than a million pigs for slaughter annually and was monitored for a year as part of the study. The rates suggest these large farms had a minimum of 2,500 dead or wounded pigs during the year, with at least one farm having more than 22,000 dead or wounded pigs. For the overall US pig farming industry, McGlone estimates that the actual rate of death or fatigue prior to slaughter "varies from 0.1% to more than 1%." But elsewhere he says that "most systems will experience a range of 0% to as much as 4% fatigued pigs," depending on various factors.

McGlone cites several variables that contribute to rates of dead and wounded pigs, including facility design and human behaviors as "major factors." He notes that, "Dead and fatigued-pig rates are directly impacted by the interaction between the herdsperson and pigs at the farm. It surfaces most predominately when loading the truck." McGlone says that all farmed pigs become somewhat stressed when transported to the slaughterhouse. He also notes that the use of an electric prod can dramatically increase the rates of stress and fatigue. According to the study, "For each 2% increase in the percentage of pigs prodded, there was a 1.2-pig increase in the number of fatigued pigs per shift. On average, for every 14 pigs prodded, one pig became fatigued."

Finally, the articles also note possible means of mitigating stress and fatigue rates for pigs on large farms, including positive human interactions and on-farm audits. According to McGlone, "Positive human interactions, even once a week, were enough to reduce fear. This means touching pigs gently, talking to them, and moving among them as often as possible." The articles also discuss the impact of on-farm audits, which reduced the fatigued pig rate by 50% and the death rate by 75% during "load-out" and unloading times. McGlone suggests that audits work because, "Overall, the pigs were handled much differently when someone was watching."

Part 2: "Fatigued Pigs: The On-Farm Link" (with charts), Pork Magazine, 1/1/06

Part 1: "Reducing Market Hog Fatigue" (with chart), Pork Magazine, 12/1/05

2. Industry Approaches to Farmed Animal Welfare and "Humane" Slaughter

CHICKENS: US poultry industry leaders recently discussed animal welfare at the International Poultry Expo held in Atlanta. One poultry expert suggested a change in terminology from "animal welfare" to "animal well-being" as a more accurate term to measure poultry health and "productivity." He says the best indications of poultry welfare are "the stress hormone corticosterone, blood, body temperature, body weight, feed conversion and mortality." Executives at Gold Kist discussed instructing bird "catchers" not to carry more than five chickens in each hand, and the company pays incentives to workers who "limit their number of DOAs." Other industry leaders from KFC and elsewhere note that companies need to "present a united front" to consumers regarding farmed animal welfare.

CERTIFIED HUMANE: New York-based D'Agostino Supermarkets is encouraging all of its farmed animal product suppliers to join the "Certified Humane Raised and Handled" program to improve animal welfare. The grocery chain already offers 35 products labeled as Certified Humane, a program and set of standards introduced in 2003 by the nonprofit Humane Farm Animal Care. D'Agostino hopes to become a leader in "humanely slaughtered" animal products, which company executives believe will grow quickly, similar to organic foods. According the company's president, "We want to make a difference and do our part by encouraging our suppliers to source products from farms that follow high welfare standards of humane care of animals."

ECOFRIENDLY FOODS: Virginia-based EcoFriendly Foods is hoping to pioneer an approach to ethical animal farming that includes humane treatment of the animals and minimizes the environmental impact. The farm's owner is a former vegetarian who renovated and reopened a slaughterhouse two years ago, and who now does much of the actual slaughtering himself. As a reminder to employees to take care with animals, the "knock box" or stunning pen includes a "heart-shaped cutout." Prior to slaughter, animals are given time to "calm down" after being transported to the facility. The company also says it plans to put videos on its website to show customers and the public that it treats farmed animals humanely prior to slaughter.

1. "Live from IPE: KFC, Gold Kist Offer Animal Welfare Insights,", 1/26/06 (Registration)

2. "D'Agostino Launches Effort to Promote Certified Humane Products," Progressive Grocer, 1/19/06 (

3. "Slaughterhouse Uses No Hormones, Antibiotics; Animals are Pasture-Raised," News Advance, 1/28/06 (

3. Europe Adopts Comprehensive Plan for Animal Welfare with Farm Focus

The European Commission has adopted an "action plan" including proposals to improve the welfare of farmed animals from 2006 to 2010. The European Parliament (EP) requested the proposals, which must now be voted on by Ministers of Parliament in February 2006 before becoming law. The action plan covers five key areas:

   1) Upgrading minimum standards for animal welfare
   2) Promoting research and alternative approaches to animal testing
   3) Introducing standardized animal welfare indicators
   4) Better informing animal handlers and the public on animal welfare issues
   5) Supporting international initiatives for the protection of animals

Although these goals cover more than farmed animals, the plan has major implications specifically for farmed animals raised in Europe for food. One of the most notable developments is a ban on "debeaking" chickens, a process animal advocates say is both painful and permanently disfiguring. Chicken farms will also be required to house no more than 30 kilograms of chickens per square meter of cage. Farmers in the European Union (EU) raise an estimated 5.2 billion chickens annually for slaughter and consumption.

The plan also strengthens protections for other species of farmed animals and proposes development of standards for animals currently not receiving any legal protection. The proposals currently do not provide explicit standards for farmed fish welfare, but both Europe and the World Organization on Animal Health (OIE) are said to be drafting standards for fish. Notably, the action plan also calls for the potential establishment of a new European Centre for the Protection and Welfare of Animals.

A separate vote by the EP also extended the animal welfare provisions by banning all imports into the EU from other countries that do not meet the new standards. Finally, the EP's Agriculture Committee voted to recommend establishing a standard animal welfare label for animal products sold in the EU, to notify customers of more humane animal treatment. These changes and proposals are largely in response to consumer concerns about the treatment of farmed animals in Europe as shown in several recent opinion surveys.

1. "Improving Animal Welfare: EU Action Plan Adopted," European Union, 1/23/06

2. "Q and A on the Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals," European Union, 1/23/06

3. "EU Lawmakers Seek Better Standards for Chickens," Planet Ark / Reuters, 1/27/06

4. Emerging Farmed Animal Disease Systems; New Avian Influenza Research

The US-based Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently published a perspective piece from international experts on emerging farmed animal diseases. The article describes the major diseases that have emerged in farmed animals worldwide in the past 20 years and compares three clinical observation systems. The systems from New Zealand, France, and the US, all provide ways for veterinarians and farmers to collect and share information about emerging diseases. Such diseases clearly affect farmed animal welfare, but this article mostly describes the economic impact of emerging diseases on industry and government.

Several recent scientific advances may help mitigate the chances of a global avian influenza pandemic. At the University of Pittsburgh (US), researchers have developed an avian influenza vaccine for birds that has been 100% successful in clinical trials. The vaccine is based on a live virus developed from "critical components" of the highly pathogenic H5N1 strain of avian influenza. The scientists also say that one form of the vaccine shows signs of providing immunity against H5N1 infection. Separately, other US researchers discovered a key genetic difference between avian and human strains of influenza. Using samples from 11,000 strains, the scientists found that the recent human deaths in Thailand are similar to the deadly 1918 avian "Spanish" flu. An estimated 150-200 million birds and 83 people have died or been killed worldwide from avian influenza, mostly in Southeast Asia.

1. "Detecting Emerging Diseases in Farm Animals through Clinical Observations," CDC / Others, 1/12/06

2. "Bird Flu Viruses Carry Unique Genes, Study Finds," Planet Ark / Reuters, 1/27/06

3. "Vaccine Provides 100 percent Protection against Avian Flu Virus in Animal Study," Eurekalert, 1/26/06

5. Other Items of Interest

"EPA Approves Air-Consent Agreements," Brownfield News, 1/27/06
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has signed "air consent agreements" with 20 US pig and egg farms, possibly "paving the way" to approve up to 2,700 others. The air consent agreements allow the EPA, through Purdue University, to collect pollution data on farms for a period of two years. In return, the farms receive immunity from all past air pollution violations, as well as all future violations for four years. Animal farmers are enthusiastic about the program, with agreements for representing about 13,000 farms currently pending EPA approval. (

"Battle over Ban on Horse Slaughter Pits Congress against Federal Regulators," Christian Science Monitor, 1/30/06
In 2005, the US Congress voted to end federal funding for inspection of horse slaughterhouses for one year, a move that animal advocates hoped would end the practice. However, the ban that is supposed to go into effect in March 2006 may be thwarted with the industry privately funding inspectors, supported by the US Department of Agriculture. An estimated 85,000 horses were slaughtered in the US in 2005 for export and consumption in other countries.

"Bill Targets Repeat Complaints against Factory Farms," Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier / AP, 1/29/06
In the US, the Iowa state legislature is considering a bill supported by the farming industry that would limit "chronic complaints" about factory farms. The bill would label someone a chronic complainant if they file three or more complaints in a two-year timeframe that do not result in charges. The proposal comes at a time when environmentalists and farmers in Iowa are debating the impact of large farms on local ecosystems. (

"Study Looks at Lameness in South Island Dairy Cows," Radio NZ, 1/31/06
A New Zealand study involving more than 30,000 cows kept for milk production on 40 dairy farms will investigate causes of lameness among cows. Lameness is related to the type of concrete used in housing and the distances and speed at which cows are forced to walk, according to past research.

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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.