From the Editor: May 2010
Addressing Animal Care
By Kristy Nudds
The Manitoba Egg Farmers (MEF) made a bold move at its annual meeting
March 10 by becoming the first egg marketing board to formally address
animal care. It’s an attempt to get out in front of regulators that the
rest of the industry should carefully consider.
The Manitoba Egg Farmers (MEF) made a bold move at its annual meeting March 10 by becoming the first egg marketing board to formally address animal care. It’s an attempt to get out in front of regulators that the rest of the industry should carefully consider. The board announced at the meeting that it has created a new animal care policy in which any egg producer in the province that builds a new facility or replaces its housing system after 2018 must utilize a housing system that meets the Five Freedoms (see “Proactive Policy,” page 14).
The concept of the Five Freedoms originated in the United Kingdom with the Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, also known as the Brambell Report, in December 1965. The report stated that farm animals should have freedom “to stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves and stretch their limbs.” These minimal standards became know as the Five Freedoms.
However, in 1993 the U.K. Farm Animal Welfare Council agreed that the original definitions concentrated too much on space requirements and on only one aspect of behaviour, and excluded other factors known to contribute to good animal welfare, such as freedom from distress, freedom from fear, and the ability to express normal behaviour, the latter of which includes much more than allowing an animal to groom itself.
Consequently, the definition of the Five Freedoms was expanded: freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury or disease; freedom to express normal behaviour; and freedom from fear and distress.
While the MEF’s policy is not about imposing a ban on conventional cages, it does make a clear statement that conventional cage systems are not the future direction for Manitoba. As noted by MEF general manager Penny Kelly, the writing is on the wall – addressing the care of laying hens is no longer an issue being tackled only in Europe. With the passing of Proposition 2 in California in 2008, the issue of addressing a hen’s behavioural needs is now a reality on North American soil.
Proposition 2 is poorly written, using vague language and offering no reference to which type of housing is acceptable – only that animals need to be able to lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs. The proposition’s passing with 63 per cent of the votes is nonetheless significant because it indicates that animal welfare is important on some level to consumers.
A growing body of research conducted around the world shows that enriched cages – those that offer a scratching area, dusting material and a nesting area – meet the criteria set forth in the Five Freedoms. They also offer the benefit of maintaining food safety as conventional cages do, but with a more open housing concept.
Although the MEF is the first board to mandate a housing system, it’s clear from discussions with cage manufacturers at the recent London Poultry Show that egg producers around the country see alternative housing, particularly enriched housing, as the direction to take.
I think the MEF’s policy echoes what is on the minds of many egg producers: that addressing animal care is inevitable, and necessary, if the industry wants to maintain consumer confidence. It’s not about which system is best. It’s about being proactive and taking the initiative to get ahead of an issue that is not going to go away, rather than waiting to be sidelined by an ineffective policy such as Proposition 2 that won’t benefit anyone.