Symposium: Animal welfare challenges for today and tomorrow

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Abstract

The increasing separation of the public from production agriculture means there is often a lack of knowledge among consumers about current production practices and a perception that increased productivity and economic efficiency are necessarily associated with a decline in animal welfare. A symposium was organized to present information about animal welfare issues and the challenges they pose for both scientists and the poultry and allied industries. Companion papers provide information about understanding public attitudes and physiological/immunological approaches to welfare assessment, while this paper outlines current and future challenges to egg and meat production and industry responses to those challenges. For broiler chickens, increases in growth rate result in corollary increases in metabolic heat generation and water consumption, leading to the need for continuing improvements in housing, ventilation, and litter management. Stocking densities, lighting programs, muscle myopathies, and use of antibiotics are also areas that require research attention. In the layer industry, the key challenge is housing, with the industry undergoing a shift from conventional cage housing to alternatives like enriched colonies or cage-free. While these alternative systems have hen welfare advantages, there are also welfare disadvantages that require the development of mitigation strategies, and it is also essential to address associated issues including economic, environmental, egg safety, and worker health impacts. Concerns on the horizon include euthanasia of surplus male chicks and spent hens as well as beak-trimming. The humaneness of slaughter methods is an important welfare and consumer confidence issue, and the current regulations for poultry slaughter in the USA are discussed and compared to those for livestock. The poultry and allied industries, including retailers, are responding to these concerns by consulting with experts, developing science-based animal care standards and auditing programs, strengthening training and oversight programs, promoting research, and improving communication channels. In future, intensifying multi-disciplinary research efforts and developing mechanisms to improve communication between scientists and stakeholders, including the public, will be critical to addressing these issues.

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