The ethical food movement: What does it mean for the role of science and scientists in current debates about animal agriculture?

Contemporary animal agriculture is increasingly criticized on ethical grounds. Consequently, current policy and legislative discussions have become highly controversial as decision makers attempt to reconcile concerns about the impacts of animal production on animal welfare, the environment, and on the efficacy of antibiotics required to ensure human health with demands for abundant, affordable, safe food.

Clearly, the broad implications for US animal agriculture of what appears to be a burgeoning movement relative to ethical food production must be understood by animal agriculture stakeholders. The potential effects of such developments on animal agricultural practices, corporate marketing strategies, and public perceptions of the ethics of animal production must also be clarified.

To that end, it is essential to acknowledge that people’s beliefs about which food production practices are appropriate are tied to diverse, latent value systems. Thus, relying solely on scientific information as a means to resolve current debates about animal agriculture is unlikely to be effective.

The problem is compounded when scientific information is used inappropriately or strategically to advance a political agenda. Examples of the interface between science and ethics in regards to addressing currently contentious aspects of food animal production (animal welfare, antimicrobial use, and impacts of animal production practices on the environment) are reviewed.

The roles of scientists and science in public debates about animal agricultural practices are also examined. It is suggested that scientists have a duty to contribute to the development of sound policy by providing clear and objectively presented information, by clarifying misinterpretations of science, and by recognizing the differences between presenting data vs. promoting their own value judgments in regard to how and which data should be used to establish policy.

Finally, the role of the media in shaping public opinions on key issues pertaining to animal agriculture is also discussed.

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Historical overview of male day-old chicks as animal feed

In 2013, more than 150 million chicks per year, male day-old chicks are used as high quality and nutritious ingredient on the diet of hundreds of species of wild animals that are held in zoos and breading centers.

In the past 30 years, the use of day-old chicks have been changed, from animal waste to high-end food for birds of pray, cranes and other animals living in zoos and fauna parks around the world. This change has become possible first, after the introduction of techniques to kill the animals without unnecessary stress or pain.

With the use of technology, people daring to think out of the box, and the entrepreneurial courage of only a view people who dared to stick out their neck for animal welfare in a time that it was absolutely not common to do so, the majority of all male day-old chicks that are produced in Europe today are being treated with respect during slaughter, completely in line with the EU directives EU 1099/2009 and EU 1069/2009.

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Impact assesment EU 1099/2009 January 19, 2012

Andrea Gavinelli, Directorate General for Health and Consumers, EU Commission: Summary.

Animal Welfare is being accorded an increasingly important role in today’s civil society. There is a growing expectation from consumers worldwide for animals used in food production to be well treated. Science has also more clearly defined the link of animal welfare with the increase of efficiency in production, animal health, securing sustainability, and ethical concerns.

The results of several social investigations and market analysis carried on in the European Union confirm that the farming of animals is no longer viewed by European consumers simply as a means of food production. Instead it is seen as fundamental to other key social goals such as food safety and quality, safeguarding environmental protection, sustainability, enhancing the quality of life in rural areas while ensuring that animals are properly treated.

While in the past animal welfare policy was often driven public concerns about specific topics the Commission adopted in 2006 a more comprehensive strategy for this policy area.

The first Community Action Plan on the Protection and Welfare of Animals 2006-2010 takes into account all the concerns as well as the globalisation of animal production. It defines the direction of the Community policies and the related activities for the coming years to continue to promote high animal welfare standards in the EU and internationally considering animal welfare as business opportunities while respecting the ethical and cultural dimension of the issue. A major effort is ongoing today to simplify the legislative framework and to reshape it in order to obtain in the future a more powerful tool to support European farm business.

The scientific study of animal welfare is a relatively young discipline and has developed over the last three decades and continues to expand to meet new challenges and new possibilities.

The scientific knowledge could play an important role facilitating the ethical and political decisions about animal care.

The vision is to integrate the farming of animals in good health and welfare conditions with the respect of several other issues such as the safety of the products and the respect for the environment: this integrated approach will bring a real benefit for the global society.

The overall aim of the European Commission’s initiative is to initiate a broad public debate on animal welfare which will allow shaping a coherent and widely accepted policy.

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Dual purpose chickens economic feasibility

The production of eggs and poultry meat is specialized. There are genotypes for egg production and for meat. The males of layer breeds are in general killed as one-day-olds. Killing such young animals raises ethical questions. A dual-purpose chicken, suited for both the production of eggs and meat, would prevent the killing of day-old males.

The conclusion of this report is, that dual-purpose chickens might serve a niche market, but a total shift to dual purpose chickens, to solve the problem of killing day-old males, is with regard to the environmental burden and economics not feasible.

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Killing one-day-old male chicks, do we have alternatives?

Opinions of ‘the public’ about alternatives to the killing of one-day-old chicks. Research for the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature Management and Food Quality October 2008.
Throughout the world, male chicks from layer breeds are killed just after hatching, as they are not profitable as regards the production of meat. The Dutch and European parliaments have insisted on research into possible alternatives to the killing of day-old chicks.

In the present study we have investigated Dutch public opinion on the acceptability of these alternatives by means of discussions in so- called focus groups and via a public survey through computer-aided personal interviews (CAPI).
To inform the participants about the subject, a film was made to explain the current practice and introduce a number of technological alternatives that would prevent development of male embryos, as well as the possibility of creating a ‘dual-purpose chicken’ that would allow male chicks to be used for meat production.
The topics addressed in the study included the willingness of participants to pay a premium for eggs and chicken meat, were it necessary to prevent killing of male chicks. Focus-group discussions showed that many participants were unaware of the current practice of killing male chicks, and were shocked by this practice.
However, once informed, the participants seemed able to take various considerations into account and rank the alternatives. The alternatives ‘looking into the fresh egg (to determine sex of the egg and not incubate male eggs)’, and ‘dual-purpose chickens’ scored best out of all the possible alternatives, and higher than maintaining the current practice. ‘Influencing the laying hens such that they produce fewer male eggs’ scored the same as maintaining the current practice.
The use of ‘genetic modification to facilitate looking into the fresh egg’ scored only slightly lower than maintaining the current practice. Alternatives whereby developing male embryos die, or are killed, scored lower than maintaining the current practice.

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Dossier day-old Chickens: The market for culled one-day-old chicks

Every year, as a by-product of the production of laying hens, an estimated 45 million day-old male chicks are born and killed in the hatchery immediately after hatch.

Almost all surplus day-old chicks from laying hens find a useful destination as frozen food in specific animal feed channels and because of their unique properties, the numbers in which they are available and the relatively low price, they cannot easily be replaced by other food animals.

Almost all the killed day-old male chicks are frozen and used as feed animals in specific animal feed channels (93% = 42 million chicks = 1.680 tonnes). Only day-old chicks of insufficient quality are disposed as waste.

Approximately 15% of the born and frozen day-old chicks (= 6.8 chicks = 270 kg tonnes) is sold to Dutch zoos, falconers and through pet shops or directly to individual pet owners. Around 85% of the Dutch frozen chicks gets a destination abroad (Europe).

Day-old chicks are mostly fed to birds of prey (falcons, buzzards, owls, etc.) and other large birds (storks, hear ravens, cranes, etc.). For birds of prey, chicks are part of a menu of intact feed animals that is as varied as possible (including mice, rats et cetera). For some birds (such as storks), often the entire menu consists of day-old chicks.

In a small amount, chicks are also fed to pets like dogs, cats and some reptiles. For these categories, the product ‘day-old chick’ is of minor importance.

There are important nutritional, labour and financial benefits associated with the feeding of day-old chicks.

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Urgent problem emerging in German layer sector

In the World Poultry of October 10, 2013, an article has been published about what to do with 40 million male chicks per year from layer lines, in Germany alone. That was the question raised during the 51st Franchise distributor meeting of Lohmann Tierzucht. Just a few days earlier the German state Nordrhein-Westfalen banned the killing of male day-old chicks in layer hatcheries, with a transition period of only 1 year. Politicians of the neighbouring state Niedersachsen immediately announced they were thinking to do the same, implying that the ban could be rolled out over the whole of Germany and even beyond.

“Let me be very clear on this subject, we have a very serious and acute problem,” managing director of Lohmann Tierzucht Rudolf Preisinger stated. And indeed, he is right. The discussion of killing of male day-old chicks is a political discussion that has been going on in Europe for the past 20 years and has now come to the point that the subject needs to be addressed. It is now a fundamental and political problem. Nordrhein- Westfalens Minister responsible for animal welfare Johannes Remmel (Die Grünen) categorized in a German publication in Focus Online the killing of male day-old chickens as absolutely horrible. According to his opinion the killing of chickens in the hatchery has to come to a stop:

• Regardless of what the alternatives are for the use of male day old chicks after hatching;
• Regardless of the question if the methods of killing are animal friendly or not;
• Regardless of the question how to compensate the 180.000.000 male day-old-chicks that are used in zoos;
• Even regardless of the question that there is currently no solution at hand, either for sexing eggs or what to do with a poultry product that the consumers don’t want.

And there are more issues to address: How to deal with the doubling of the use of animal feed and the produced chicken manure, because:

• These male chickens eat as much as their sisters
• They litter as much as their sisters
• They don’t produce enough meat
• The bone structure is too weak and will break easily
• The price of a processed male chicken to be used for human consumption is too high compared to the price for chicken that is produced for its meat

Than there is a last fundamental question left and that is what to do with the chickens that are disabled, sick, cripple, late hatched chickens and so on. Its not allowed macerating them anymore, together with the eggshells, but what to do with them instead?

It is a political issue that has been put on the table in the hope that over time, the question whether or not its legit to kill chickens after sexing is going to be answered once and for all. The authorities placed the industry before an impossible choice:

A. Going forward with the killing of male chicks in the layer industry and macerating disabled chicks in the broiler industry and taking the risk of being trialed
B. Stop the production of poultry in Nordrhein- Westfalen.

The animal welfare community celebrated the step as a victory, but that might be too early. For the time being, the industry has little choice but to continue its current practice and by doing that, they are forced to step into the political arena and justify why they chose to continue their practices. It will be a long and fundamental battle. But according to the current political opinion with in the EU, it is justified by the fact that the protection of animals at the time of slaughter or killing is a matter of public concern that affects consumer attitudes towards agricultural products. Whoever will win the debate and how all the related issues are going to be addressed in the near future: this will not be the last article about what to do with male day old chickens.

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Lotta Berg 2009: WSPA conference Poultry welfare AI

In this paper various bird welfare aspects related to avian influenza and other contagious diseases are discussed. Disease outbreaks will, apart from the obvious direct effects on bird health, and thereby their wellbeing, also indirectly influence the welfare of the birds. For example, restrictions on outdoor access for free-range poultry may be imposed, and vaccination or testing schemes may lead to handling or sampling procedures that are stressful to the birds.

At the same time, the immediate risk of a disease outbreak may lead to improved biosecurity measures on farms, which may in turn decrease the risk of other diseases entering the premises, thus resulting in improved bird health and welfare.

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Toepassen Verordening EU 1099/2009 binnen de varkensindustrie

Ondanks de nieuwe EU verordening worden pasgeboren biggen veelal handmatig – met inzet van fysieke kracht – gedood, bij gebrek aan een passende techniek die is toegestaan op grond van de Europese verordening. De verordening is weliswaar rechtstreeks van kracht in alle lidstaten, maar volgens artikel 26 van de nieuwe verordening kunnen lidstaten wel stringentere nationale voorschriften handhaven, onder andere m.b.t. het doden van dieren buiten een slachthuis.

Het Besluit doden van dieren beperkt op dit moment de mogelijkheden die de verordening biedt. Dit leidt tot een onaanvaardbare situaties voor Nederlandse varkensboeren. Dit kan niet de bedoeling geweest zijn van de Nederlandse wetgever en daarom is het zaak dat het Besluit houders van dieren zo snel mogelijk in werking treedt.
De verordening is weliswaar rechtstreeks van kracht in alle lidstaten, maar volgens artikel 26 van de nieuwe verordening kunnen lidstaten wel stringentere nationale voorschriften handhaven, onder andere m.b.t. het doden van dieren buiten een slachthuis.

Het Besluit doden van dieren beperkt op dit moment de mogelijkheden die de verordening biedt. Dit leidt tot een onaanvaardbare situaties voor Nederlandse varkensboeren. Dit kan niet de bedoeling geweest zijn van de Nederlandse wetgever en daarom is het zaak dat het Besluit houders van dieren zo snel mogelijk in werking treedt.

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Besluiten houders van dieren en diergeneeskundigen

De Wet dieren en de daarop gebaseerde gedelegeerde regelgeving brengt de tot nu toe fragmentarische wetgeving met betrekking tot dieren samen tot een integraal geheel. Hierbij worden de nu op grond van de Gezondheids- en welzijnswet voor dieren (Gwwd) geldende regels opnieuw vormgegeven.

Het gaat dus niet om een stelsel van nieuwe regels. De nieuwe systematiek biedt helderheid over geldende regelingen en is toegankelijker voor de gebruikers. De regels omtrent diergeneesmiddelen (Besluit en Regeling diergeneesmiddelen), dierlijke producten (Besluit en Regeling dierlijke producten) en diervoeders (Besluit en Regeling diervoeders) zijn per 1 januari jl. al in werking getreden.

De inwerkingtreding van de Besluiten houders van dieren en diergeneeskundigen is voorzien voor de zomer 2013. De belangrijkste reden om deze beide besluiten zo snel mogelijk in werking te laten treden is dat daarmee een voor dierenwelzijnregelgeving nieuw handhavinginstrument van kracht wordt, namelijk de bestuurlijke boete. Onder de Gwwd kan aan overtreders van dierenwelzijnregels geen bestuurlijke boete worden gegeven. Met invoering van de Wet dieren en onderliggende besluiten kan dat wel.

Een bestuurlijke boete is een sterke prikkel om een overtreder zijn gedrag te laten aanpassen en leidt tot het verhogen van de naleving van welzijnsregels en biedt een effectievere aanpak van overtreders.

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