June 8, 2018

Once again, this morning I awoke to two very large poultry producing companies proudly proclaiming, on my television while I was trying to see the weather report, that their chicken was being raised with No Antibiotics Ever and implying that this was somehow better for the chickens and healthier for me. After I settled down from my usual screaming at the television rant, I ask myself what is wrong with this picture. It suddenly occurred to me that the problem is that the only department that should receive an annual bonus after its annual review is the marketing department because it is the only one really excelling at its job. Live production and veterinary services should be chastised for not doing their jobs and fighting for what’s right.

I know I repeat myself but I shall continue to do so until someone either listens to me or tells me to shut up: I am extremely disappointed in my profession for not standing up for the practice of veterinary medicine and the ethical treatment of animals. Recently, at the Western Poultry Disease Conference I spoke on this topic and outlined three action points that have already been implemented in Europe and need to be addressed in the United States. These are:
1. A review of the practices of organic production and implementation of rules like Europe that animals can be treated if their welfare is threatened and to preserve organic status the withholding times of any product used are doubled.
2. Reclassify ionophore anticoccidials as anticoccidials not antibiotics so they can be used to control the most serious health threat facing organic and NAE production.
3. Open discussions about national standards for density and downtime so we give Mother Nature a chance to help us in our efforts to minimize antibiotic usage.

Comments I received after the talk were “good job” and “thank you for saying what needed to be said”. But as usual I was disappointed in the response to the call to action - none. I suppose I persist in the naïve notion that AVMA or AAAP will step up to the plate to address these issues. Publishing white papers that are as widely unread as this column doesn’t get things fixed.

No matter how hard the times get and how few hours there are in a day, animal agriculture’s dedication to welfare, husbandry, and health must never waver. I could not believe what I was hearing the other day when I heard a grower tell the grow-out manager that he did not have sufficient time to clean the drinkers. For once I kept my mouth shut and listened when I really wanted to tell the grower it was his job and if he did not want to do his job he should not have animals. Animal welfare and good husbandry are not the responsibility of outsiders with their own agenda, it is ours. We know how to do it. We are always looking for better ways to do it. We need to understand that it is our job.
I can honestly say that in 42 years of practicing veterinary medicine, the cases of man’s abuse of animals that I have seen have occurred far more frequently with back yard animal owners than with commercial
production. Perhaps rather than directing animal rights efforts or animal welfare audits towards an industry that is trying to do a good job and do some good in the world, their resources should be directed towards correction of the overpopulation of pet animals that we have in the US or educational programs for people considering raising a couple of goats but never heard of worming programs or proper foot health.

So how can animal agriculture defend itself from this seemingly constant onslaught of groups or individuals who persist in trying to tell us how to do our jobs yet do not know what we do or how we do it. The answer is simple – remember that it is our job not theirs and always strive to do our job better. The cleanliness of the waterers is not the responsibility of an animal rights group or the responsibility of the company – it is the responsibility of the caretakers. Just as the responsibility for maintaining the health of the animals is the responsibility of veterinary services not the marketing department. As members of the agricultural community that raise animals, we need to understand that animal welfare and animal husbandry and animal health are our responsibility no one else’s. We also need to understand that people who no longer have connections with this country’s agricultural heritage are watching and asking questions - and that is okay. We must be proud of the way we do things and we must be prepared to defend what we do. We must also always be open to suggestions about how to do what we do better. We must never lose sight of the fact that what we do is provide the safest and cheapest source of animal protein that the world has ever known. If someone chooses to follow a vegetarian life style we should be fully supportive. But we must also be ever vigilant that soy beans are being raised in the same humane tradition as we practice in animal agriculture. Think about it!

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Robert L. Owen, V.M.D., Ph.D.

Director of Technical Service

Proud recipient of the 2018 Best Veterinary Solutions “Curmudgeon of the Year” Award

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