Farmed Animal Watch: Objective Information for the Thinking Advocate
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February 15, 2006 -- Number 7, Volume 6

1. Pig Welfare: Dental Health and Culling Rates; Sorting and Needless Stress

Two recent articles in National Hog Farmer magazine provide expert analysis of farmers' approaches to dental health and sorting for farmed pigs. The articles are from an industry perspective with emphasis on the financial benefits from improving dental and sorting practices, but may also have significant implications for pig welfare.

DENTAL HEALTH: Wayne Johnson, a veterinarian and student at the University of Illinois, writes extensively about the state of dental health among farmed sows and how it relates to culling. Johnson found that among sows who were culled for any reason, "about 85% showed significant dental lesions presumed to cause pain or local tissue reaction." Johnson then conducted a follow-up study with live sows whom he tracked and found that "Sows with bad molars were 17 times as likely to be culled as those with good molars." Johnson will now study how farmed sows interact with their cages and stalls, using video evidence to analyze "bar-biting" and other issues related to bad teeth. Summarizing his findings, Johnson says, "We know that culling rate and mortality rate are too high, and the longevity is too short in our industry. It appears that bad teeth are associated with higher culling rates."

SORTING: Dr. Harold Gonyou at the University of Guelph (Ontario, Canada), says that sorting pigs by weight, common practice at large farms, is a "waste of time" and increases aggression. Gonyou says that housing pigs with other similarly-sized pigs increases competition and "social stress that happens within a pen." He recommends that pig farmers seeking "performance gains" not sort the animals at all to avoid the stress, or deliberately mix pigs of different sizes. According to Gonyou, "We found that if we put the aggressive pigs together in a pen with just other aggressive pigs, then their productivity was depressed. If we put all the non-aggressive pigs together in a pen, they had good productivity. And, if there was a mixture of aggressive and non-aggressive pigs in a pen, they had good productivity as well."

1. "Sow Dentistry 101," National Hog Farmer, 1/15/06

2. "Skip the Sorting," National Hog Farmer, 1/15/06

2. Smithfield Foods, Workers' Rights, and Pig Slaughterhouse Line Speeds

Smithfield Foods, the world's largest pig slaughterer, is facing a growing threat of unionization among workers who complain about abusive management and illegal employment practices. According to the New York Times, workers at a Smithfield slaughterhouse in North Carolina have provided "a steady stream of complaints about bullying managers, the line speed and the many injuries to hands, arms and shoulders." According to the union, line speeds force employees to "process" too many animals per shift: "On each processing line on the kill floor, a hog passes about every three and a half seconds, translating into about 1,000 hogs an hour, 8,000 a shift." The North Carolina slaughterhouse employs 5,500 workers and kills 32,000 pigs daily.

The complaints against Smithfield go further than increased line speeds, however, including physical intimidation and harassment of employees involved with unions. In 2004, the US National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) upheld a court ruling that said Smithfield had prevented a fair election among workers regarding whether or not to unionize. The NLRB concurred with the ruling that Smithfield had "prevented a fair election by illegally intimidating, firing, threatening and spying on workers (and) also had a union supporter beaten up the night of the vote count."

"Union Takes New Tack in Organizing Effort at Pork-Processing Plant," NY Times, 2/13/06 (Registration)

3. North American Deer Slaughter Industry Continues Despite CWD Concerns

Farming of captive deer (or cervids) may be growing in the US despite the risk of Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) from farmed animals commingling with wild deer populations. The North American Deer Farmers Association (NADFA) boasts that it represents "the owners of over 75,000 cervid livestock" in 43 US states and several Canadian provinces. According to a separate source, "Pennsylvania and Wisconsin each have about 1,000 deer farms; Ohio, 800; and New York, 500. Texas has about 712 licensed breeders owning 812 facilities and 40,000 cervids." According to an NADFA member survey, deer farmed in North America are distributed according to species as follows: Axis - 9.2%; Fallow - 23.7%; Red - 30.4%; Sika - 21.1%; Whitetail - 26.9%; Wapiti - 4.6%; and Other - 3%.

According to an attorney with the West Virginia Deer Farmers Association, "Potential markets for deer farmers include venison from elk, red deer and fallow deer; velvet from the antlers of elk and red deer; antler art; breeding stock; hunting preserves; tourism with menageries; and sale of deer attractants for hunting uses." In West Virginia, however, which currently has 45 deer farms, farmers and hunters are arguing over the importance of the industry and the potentially increased risk of spreading CWD. According to a retired wildlife professor (and bow hunter), "The more CWD is found on deer farms, the more the public turns against them... And in no state does the economic benefit from deer farming come close to the economic value of the wild deer herd to citizens."

Similar concerns have reportedly prompted 17 US states to ban deer farms, but are being downplayed by farmers in West Virginia. They are asking that the industry be regulated by the state Department of Agriculture rather than the Department of Natural Resources, which has proposed "cost-prohibitive" measures such as double-fencing. Opponents say that the agriculture department will provide insufficient oversight when the risk is largely to wild deer populations. In Wisconsin, an outbreak of CWD in 2002 contributed to an estimated decrease of one-third of the farmed deer in the state (11,000 animals) three years later, although the number of farms declined only slightly.

1. "Proposed Rule on Deer Farming Cost Prohibitive," West Virginia Gazette, 2/6/06

2. "State's Deer Farms Pose a Threat to Wild Herds," West Virginia Gazette, 2/10/06

3. About the North American Deer Farmers Association

4. "State Reports Nearly 700 Licensed Deer and Elk Farms," Duluth Superior / AP, 2/12/06

4. Farmed Animal Statistics: USDA "Production" and Consumption Projections

The US Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Office of the Chief Economist has released its annual report providing 10-year projections for US farm production and per capita consumption. The report projects primarily economic data relating to value of agricultural products, consumer prices, exports, etc. It also provides details about farmed animal welfare, however, including the projected "production" and "inventory" of the species of animals most regularly slaughtered for food in the US. We have summarized the most relevant findings below and provided a link to the full report at the end of this section.

10-Year Farmed Animal Slaughter and "Inventory" Projections

  • Overall: "Livestock sector projections over the baseline period reflect increasing production, strong domestic demand, and strengthening exports for meat… The trend toward larger livestock systems continues throughout the baseline period. Production of all meats slows in the second half of the projections, reflecting higher feed costs as more corn is used in the production of ethanol."
  • Poultry: "Poultry production continues to rise, but less rapidly than during the 1990s due to the maturity of domestic demand and slower export growth." Poultry slaughter is measured in pounds rather than individual birds, and "production" is projected to grow from 35.6 billion pounds in 2005 to 43.6 billion pounds in 2015 (+23%).
  • Pigs: "Pork production grows slowly as the coordinated/integrated industrial structure continues to dampen the traditional U.S. hog cycle." The farmed pig "inventory" was 61 million in 2005 and is projected to grow to 66 million in 2015 (+8%).
  • Cows for Slaughter: "Cattle herds are expected to increase from cyclical lows near 95 million head in 2004 to near 103 million head (+8%) at the end of the projections (2015), with much of the gain occurring in the next several years."
  • Cows for Milk: "Milk cow numbers are expected to decline after 2006 at a relatively slow pace." Cows for milk production currently number about 9.0 million (2005), but the herd size is projected to decline slightly to 8.7 million cows in 2015.
10-Year Per Capita Consumption Projections

  • Overall: "Annual per capita consumption of red meats and poultry grows from 220 pounds in 2005 to 231 pounds in 2015 (+ 5%). U.S. consumers buy more meat, but spend a smaller proportion of disposable income for these purchases, continuing a long-term trend. Over the next 10 years, consumer meat expenditures decline from about 2 percent to 1.3 percent of disposable income. Poultry expenditures continue to increase as a share of consumer spending on meats."
  • Poultry: Per capita chicken consumption is projected to increase from 85.3 to 96.8 pounds (+13%) from 2005 to 2015, respectively. Per capita turkey consumption is projected to increase slightly from 16.4 to 16.8 pounds (+2%) over the same period. Per capita egg consumption is expected to increase from 255 eggs in 2005 to 261 eggs in 2015 (+2%).
  • Pigs: Per capita "pork" consumption is projected to hold relatively constant from 2005 to 2015, increasing very slightly from 49.7 pounds to 49.9 pounds, respectively.
  • Cows: Per capita "beef" consumption is projected to decline slightly from 65.9 pounds in 2005 to 64.8 pounds in 2015 (-2%). "Per capita consumption of fluid milk is expected to decline slowly," but by an unspecified amount.

1. "USDA Agricultural Baseline Projections to 2015," USDA / ERS, 2/10/06

2. Also see: USDA Baseline Data Delivery System for "Livestock and Dairy"

3. Also see: Archived USDA baseline projection reports, produced annually since 1997

5. Other Items of Interest

"EP Supports Better Welfare for Chickens," European Parliament, 2/14/06
The European Parliament adopted a report on February 14 that calls for strengthening legislation to protect "broiler" chickens beyond those proposed by the European Commission. The report calls for stronger minimum standards for all 25 EU Member States, with specific concerns including "stocking densities, the condition of parent birds, genetic acceleration of the growth rate of birds and environmental enrichment." (
Also see:

"Humane Society Asks Tyson to Investigate Freezing Live Birds,", 2/10/06
An employee at a Tyson Foods contract farm witnessed the company keeping sick and slow-growing chickens in a freezer until they die, "a process that could take several days." The complaint comes in a letter to Tyson management from the Humane Society of the United States, which also alleges that the contractor's management knew of the problem and took no action. Tyson, which kills 2.2 billion chickens a year, said it would investigate the complaint and that the practice, if true, would be inconsistent with the company's position on animal welfare.

"2006 Farm Income Forecast," USDA / ERS, 2/10/06
The annual farm income forecast provided by the US Department of Agriculture predicts that farm revenue will drop a significant 23% in 2006 to $56 billion, down from $73 billion in 2005. "The value of production is forecast to be down $2.9 billion for livestock, a little over 2 percent… Value of livestock production is forecast to be $124.1 billion in 2006. Cash receipts from all livestock are forecast to exceed $100 billion for the fourth time over the past 5 years, but to fall short of the 2005 record by $2.6 billion."
Also see:

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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.