AAAS symposium—Improving the welfare of farm animals

AAAS symposium—Improving the welfare of farm animals

Ethics dictate the humane housing and slaughter of farm animals. The farm industry is slowly adopting minimum standards of animal welfare, which can, in many cases, be measured objectively.
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Aug 01, 2006

In my 30-year career as an animal scientist, I have focused on two areas of cattle and pig treatment badly in need of major improvement: farm housing and slaughterhouse handling. Measurements of direct field observations have proven to be a reliable method for improving animal welfare in these areas.

Housing and related welfare issues of concern that should be assessed are

  • The respective percentage of 1) lame, skinny, and dirty animals, 2) animals displaying abnormal behavior, and 3) overcrowded animals; the presence of dirty, wet bedding; and the detection of high ammonia levels
  • Basic environmental accommodations (availability of a generator or other life support back-up system, clean water, and euthanasia instruments, as well as the quality of facility maintenance)
  • Whether housing is adapted to the animals' behavioral needs. For example, research has demonstrated that pigs actively seek fibrous plant material to forage in, yet modern farming systems often do not provide for this behavioral need. Moreover, sows on many farms are housed for most of their adult lives in stalls not wide enough for a sow to turn around in. Despite studies that demonstrate that such stalls do not reduce sow productivity, the ethical considerations of housing sows in these stalls must be taken into account.

To improve animal welfare in slaughterhouses, I have designed a simple numerical system of plant performance that focuses on the following critical control points:

  • The percentage of cattle that are not stunned with one shot from a captive bolt stunner should be ≤ 5%.
  • The percentage of cattle rendered insensible before hoisting must be 100%.
  • The percentage of cattle falling down during handling should be ≤ 1%.
  • The percentage of cattle vocalizing during handling and stunning should be ≤3%.
  • The percentage of cattle moved with an electric prod should be ≤ 25%.

Five-year consecutive audits of industry plants with this scoring system have shown that these slaughterhouses now achieve better than the minimum performance scores. A numerical scoring system provides tangible results and encourages continuous improvement.

Scientific and ethical considerations call for improved and humane farm-animal housing (e.g. phasing out sow stalls and finding ways to make group housing work) and handling in slaughterhouses. However, the farm-animal industry is only slowly embracing animal welfare standards and the practical systemic audits that assess humane treatment by measuring directly observable outcomes in the field.

Temple Grandin, PhD
Department of Animal Sciences
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1171