Genetic selection as a cause for an ethical dilemma

In commercial egg production, male chicks are killed immediately after hatch as they are not profitable for meat production. Some of them are utilised as feed for zoo or pet animals, or snack for humans, but they do not have a life of significance. In many countries people have objections against this practice.

The origin of this problem is the development and use of specialised breeds for specific purposes, to obtain increased production efficiency and low-priced animal products. Specialization can overcome the opposite requirements for high efficiency in the production of meat and eggs (milk), respectively. For efficient meat production, a high growth rate is essential. In contrast, for efficient production of eggs or milk, low animal maintenance costs, i.e. a high production rate per kg body mass, is most important. This dichotomy is most clearly seen in modern industrialized poultry production. Egg type males require 3 times more time and 2-4 times more feed than meat type birds to reach an acceptable slaughter weight, while meat type hens require much feed for growth and maintenance which makes them inefficient for egg production.

Selection of layer type birds for improved growth rate could make it more attractive to rear the males for meat production, but would strongly compromise efficiency of egg production by the females. A similar situation, albeit less extreme (for now?) can be found in dairy goats and cattle. Male offspring of dairy goat and some typical dairy cattle breeds do not have an economic value for meat production and may be killed at birth. In terms of economics, resource efficiency, or animal welfare (provided killing is carried out in a humane way), this may not be a problem but ethically it is. We discuss this ethical dilemma and explore technological and niche market alternatives as possible solutions.

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Some people less susceptible to H7N9 than others

An international team of researchers working at the University of Melbourne in Australia has found that genetic differences in people result in different degrees of ability to fight the H7N9 influenza virus. In their paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team reports that their study of immune response observed in blood samples indicates that some people may be far better equipped to fight off the new flu strain than others.

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Farm animals: Can they suffer?

‘THE question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but rather, “Can they suffer?”’ (Jeremy Bentham, English philosopher, 1748-1832).

To date, animal welfare measures have focused primarily on the avoidance of cruelty and the provision of basic needs. Christopher Wathes, chairman of the Farm Animal Welfare Council, argues that it is important to take animals’ positive experiences into account as well.

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H7N9 case reported in Zhejiang, China, January 6, 2014. The Centre for Health Protection received notification today from the National Health & Family Planning Commission of an additional human case of avian influenza A(H7N9) in Zhejiang affecting a 34-year-old woman. The patient fell ill on December 29, and tested positive for H7N9 on January 4. Her current condition is critical.

So far, a total of 146 human cases of H7N9 have been confirmed in the Mainland, including Zhejiang (52 cases), Shanghai (34 cases), Jiangsu (28 cases), Guangdong (six cases), Jiangxi (six cases), Fujian (five cases), Anhui (four cases), Henan (four cases), Beijing (two cases), Hunan (two cases), Shandong (two cases) and Hebei (one case). The centre will follow up with Mainland health authorities for more details.

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Shanghai confirms winter’s first H7N9 case

Source: Shanghai Daily | January 5, 2014. Shanghai yesterday confirmed the city’s first H7N9 case this winter after the Shanghai Health and Family Planning Commission said an 86-year-old man was infected. The elderly patient, surnamed Zhou, had been in contact with live poultry, officials said. His infection was confirmed on Friday and has since been hospitalized for treatment.

According to Dr Lu Hongzhou, director of local H7N9 experts group, the patient is in critical condition battling serious pneumonia and shock. Lu took part in group consultation for the patient on Friday. Zhou had gone to the wet market with his wife to buy live chicken and stood by as the stall owner slaughtered the chicken in front of them. He had fever and was coughing before the trip to the market, Lu said. Those in close contact with him have also been kept under medical observation. His wife is also reported to be in good health, Lu said. Lu said autumn and winter are the peak seasons for respiratory diseases. Human infection of the H7N9 virus is still sporadic but may last for a long time.

Good personal hygiene, proper nutrition, exercise and avoiding contact with live poultry or wild birds have been effective in stemming the spread of the virus. Lu has called for a complete closure of live poultry market to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. Shanghai shut live poultry markets and businesses on April 6 last year to control the spread of H7N9. The markets reopened on June 20 with strict rules in place for disinfection and management. Live poultry business will be shut from January 31, when the Chinese Lunar New Year falls, to April 30 this year to prevent recurrence of the virus.

The H7N9 strain was first reported in humans in March last year on the Chinese mainland and infected over 140 people on the mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong. More than 40 people have died from the virus. Between March 31 and April 21 last year, Shanghai reported 33 cases, but no new cases were reported after that. By June 26, the last available report said 16 people had succumbed to the virus.

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