During the Reciprocal Meat Conference held earlier this year, presentations from Nicole Widmar, Ph.D., and Candace Croney, Ph.D., from Purdue Univ., indicated that the disconnect between consumers and agriculture is getting wider. According to Widmar, 31 percent of Americans have never been on a farm and many consumers are very concerned about how pigs are housed. During the last three years, 14 percent of consumers have reduced eating pork due to concern about the gestation crate issue. The millennial generation is more concerned about social activism and environmental issues, according to Croney. Today’s young people define animal welfare as a natural life and a quick, painless death. Croney warns that purely scientific responses will not work on ethical issues. She asks, “Is what we are doing right? Does a standard practice make it right?” She is worried that a perfect storm is brewing due to concern about a loss of animal husbandry and the ethical food movement. If the industry fails to address ethical issues, the following things may happen:

1. Animal agriculture may move “offshore.” This would be understandable because when it is outside the country, the conditions may be worse;

2. The industry may become more integrated, which is what the public does not want; or

3. More federal regulation.

Humane Slaughter violations

During the RMC, Janet Riley, vice president of public affairs with the American Meat Institute, shared recent data on plant suspensions and NOIE’s for Humane Slaughter violations with members of the Animal Welfare Committee. One of the most interesting findings was that the highest number of enforcement actions from Jan. 1, 2012, to June 10, 2013, was for failure to stun animals with gunshot. This is an indicator that very small plants were having more problems. Large plants do not use gunshots. Both electric stunning and CO2 stunning had fewer enforcement actions than either gunshot or captive bolt. When suspensions were sorted by species, the number of enforcement actions for beef and pork were the same. When suspensions were sorted by district, Chicago, Dallas and Des Moines had the most suspensions. Out of the 14 districts, seven districts had no suspensions. The high level of suspensions in three districts and zero suspensions in other districts indicates there is still a problem with consistent enforcement.

Assessing stress

Kurt Vogel, Ph.D., assistant professor of animal and food science at the Univ. of Wisconsin, River Falls, discussed physiological measures for assessing stress. Cortisol measures work well for short-term stresses, such as assessing a painful procedure or a handling method, but cortisol works poorly for assessing long-term stresses from housing. Blood lactate and glucose measures are very useful for assessing short-term handling stress. They also have the advantage of being economical and easy to do.

Dr. Temple Grandin operates Grandin Livestock Systems Inc., Fort Collins, Colo., and is a faculty member in the animal science department at Colorado State Univ.