Certification of animal well-being standards may find it’s way to your farm, according to John Deen, a University of Minnesota researcher who’s investigating the topic as it relates to pork production. Among the objectives of this research is to develop a model that pork producers can use to determine the economic benefits of various practices.
Having grown up on an Ontario, Canada, farrow-to-finish operation, Deen believes that production economics animal well-being are compatible. He specializes in pork production systems at the university’s College of Clinical and Population Sciences.
Several factors have driven the need to research swine well-being. Major restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Wendy’s have established standards for their suppliers, and grocery chains like Krogers are following suit. Of course, production practices have long been top of mind with most of pork’s export customers– a trend that’s only going to intensify.
Pork producers understand the need and value for scientific research into animal well-being, says Dale Stevermer, chair of the Minnesota pork producer’s production technology and research committee. “The committee views the investment of checkoff dollars into animal well-being research as an investment in our future as producers.’’
European regulations also influence and frame the issue here. Many countries have implemented– and received subsidies for– animal well-being related standards. Although the practices have not always based on science, those countries can pressure other would-be pork suppliers to meet the same standards.
Deen’s research, “Animal Well-being on Minnesota Swine Farms”, is funded by national and state checkoff funds began in 2000 and is expected to be complete in 2003. The research will determine the current on-farm status of pig well-being; the relationship between well-being to swine health, productivity and profitability; ways producers can make on-farm improvements to pig well-being; and methods to measure effects of those changes.
The research proposes to raise the level of pig well-being by:
1. Defining the relationship between pig well-being and performance, economics and health.
2. Illustrating current successful production practices.
3. Creating guidelines to efficiently address current constraints to well-being.
4. Improving public perception of swine welfare in Minnesota by publicizing these efforts.
5. Developing a list of practices that support pig well-being for potential inclusion in a Minnesota Quality Assurance program.
While Deen’s research will focus on Minnesota farms, but the results can be applied to other production systems throughout the industry.
Other animal well-being research and activities are in the works, including research at Purdue University, Texas Tech University, the University of Illinois and USDA. The National Pork Board Animal Welfare Committee has published guides on swine euthanasia and swine handling as well as developing a swine welfare indexing system. This system will let you objectively evaluate animal welfare. It should be ready for on-farm pilot testing this year.