From the Executive Director

Pig welfare: Antagonists or advocates?

Tom Burkgren

Animal welfare is a "hot" issue. Major restaurant and food companies are developing animal welfare guidelines. Their corporate concern is based on their perceptions of the consumers who buy their products. These companies are positioning themselves to appeal to consumers or, at the very least, to not offend them. Unfortunately, many advisors to these companies are people who have little experience with or understanding of animal production agriculture.

Tere are a number of factors that influence companies as they design welfare guidelines. Certainly, there are organizations and individuals whose aim is to compel companies to adopt guidelines that force major changes in animal production. This is only part of their agenda, however. Their core focus is anti meat and their goal is to destroy animal agriculture.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who see nothing wrong with doing whatever it takes to produce meat in the most profitable manner possible. Animals are viewed as nothing more than inventories on paper, to be manipulated by whatever means to accomplish an end result of profit. Basic animal well-being can take a back seat to production goals.

Neither of these polar viewpoints represents a long-term, sustainable position for the pork industry or for the AASV. Swine veterinarians face the manifold challenge of advocating for our patients (pigs) as well as our clients (producers). To meet this professional challenge, we need the tools of science and objectivity. We also need a strong and active voice that can be heard by those in positions of decision making, including the consumer.

The AASV is involved in advocacy on the issues of animal welfare. The AASV, along with the National Pork Board, developed the brochure entitled On Farm Euthanasia of Swine - Options for the Producer. The AASV also provided extensive input into the euthanasia guidelines of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AASV Pig Welfare Committee is currently working in several areas, including drafting a position statement on pig welfare, assisting in revisions to the National Pork Board's Swine Care Handbook, and participating in the development of a swine welfare index.

Officers and members of the AASV are also involved in dialogues with companies and organizations developing welfare guidelines. McDonald's Corporation and the Food Marketing Institute are two such entities. Since the welfare issue involves more than one species, the AVMA is often the veterinary organization that is called upon to provide direct input to the development process. The AASV provides expertise and information through our representation on the AVMA Welfare Committee, as well as through direct links with AVMA staff.

We need to do more. We need to expand our scientific knowledge and then utilize it, both on the farms and in dealing publicly with the issues. On the farm, we each need to critically review our recommendations and their impact. If there are management practices that need to change, then who is better equipped to call for changes than veterinarians? If our recommendations are falling on deaf ears, then what can we do to change that which needs changing? For years, veterinarians have provided information and education for producers. It is natural for us to assume the same role for welfare.

Publicly, we need to give voice to our commitment to pig health and welfare and our support for the use of science in determining guidelines. We cannot stand by and declare that a lack of science prevents us from doing anything. We cannot go quietly about our business and always expect good results, especially when there are those who oppose everything that we have worked so hard to achieve in the pork industry. We can either position veterinarians as the experts who are on the farms and with the pigs, or we can relinquish our roles and responsibilities to those who are less knowledgeable.

The mission of the AASV is to "increase the knowledge of swine veterinarians." Members of the AASV need to continue to increase their knowledge of pig health and well-being. We also need to increase our knowledge on how to address controversial issues to best serve the interests of our profession, patients, and clients. We need to step forward to offer expertise where needed and at all levels of discussion. Members of the AASV can lend a face to the issue by telling the story of the veterinarian's role on the farm and the importance of pig well-being in a production setting. No one will know unless we take the initiative to tell them.