Have you hugged a pig today? If you have, does that qualify you as a leader in pig welfare? What, specifically, constitutes humane care and will you know it when you see it, or will you need an illustrated guide to help you to distinguish appropriate from unsavory?
All of us at the AASV meeting in Nashville remember the PETA representatives, who protested outside our hotel. Dr. Brad Thacker correctly pointed out that the group clearly does not represent welfare issues. They are vegetarians. Period. They are using welfare issues as a step in eliminating the consumption of meat.
Retail food service companies, particularly the large chains that have a huge stake in the meat industry, are not going to convert to a vegetarian menu. They have, however, listened to the several humane issues that radical animal rights groups present, and recognize marketing and advertising value and the opportunity to be proactive. No one has yet offered much of a carrot to move producers toward more humane rearing practices, but it appears many are ready to beat them with a stick. Just today, McDonald's Corp. announced they will buy no beef that cannot be certified as raised without rendered meat protein in the diet. That's a huge, unequivocal stick.
As providers of information to all segments of the industry, not just the production end, we can do at least two things, and do them simultaneously. While some of us work to bring scientific judgement to a frequently anthropomorphized subject, the rest (or all) of us can discuss improvements in humane practices with our clients.
To this end, the Welfare Committee of AASV is working diligently and with newfound haste to create an avenue of conversation between swine veterinarians and some of the major retailers who are demanding production changes by our clients.
As for what we can do at the farm level, consider the number of times you have been poorly served at a fast food restaurant as the result of a mechanical or facility flaw. Not often, in my case. It's the PEOPLE who usually foul up my orders. And so it is at the farm. Develop euthanasia guides that state not only HOW to properly end suffering in individual pigs, but WHEN. We cannot move on to the major chores of facility remodeling if we can't properly address the people-taking-care-of-pigs basics. Start there. It will be a darn hard sell if the people we represent haven't bought into the day-to-day need to reduce pain and suffering.
Finally, my question for this issue. If client profit is the goal and we envision ourselves as providers of the solution to that end, how is it that interventions still exist that contribute more to the problem than to the solution?
-- Dave Madson