Dr. Gregg J. Cutler has roots in the poultry industry going back three generations. A native and resident of California, he leads a four-veterinarian poultry practice consulting in poultry health, management, food safety and welfare. He obtained his undergraduate degree in 1969 and DVM degree in 1974 from the University of California at Davis. Dr. Cutler was the first resident in avian medicine at UC Davis and earned the MPVM in epidemiology and flock health in 1978.
In addition to his professional responsibilities Dr. Cutler has served the profession and the industry in a variety of positions including the National Poultry Improvement Plan, the California Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory Board, and the American Veterinary Medical Association Animal Welfare Committee. His community involvement includes serving on the Citizens Advisory Committee of the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District and the Santa Rosa Mutual Water Co. and local youth organizations.
Dr. Cutler has agreed to present his personal beliefs and opinions.
Egg Industry: Please share your early experiences in the egg industry?
Gregg J. Cutler: My father (alive and well) was one of the co-founders with Julius Goldman and Dr. John Allen of Egg City in Moorpark. During the mid 1970s to1980s this complex was the largest egg production enterprise in the World with 3.5 million hens. Working part time on vacations as a high school student, I gained considerable experience in management from Dr. John Allen, the company veterinarian. Dr. Allen was an inspiration and mentor with an extensive knowledge of factors contributing to the health and productivity of flocks.
EI: You have unfortunately had some contact with catastrophic disease. Please share your experience.
GJC: I worked closely with producers to help control the H6N2 avian influenza outbreak. Although classified as a low pathogenicity strain, the birds did not know this and losses were severe. I was also involved in ending the exotic Newcastle disease outbreak. Both AI and ND represent an ever-present danger to the industry in California and other border states. The movement of workers to our farms from their homes south of the border where these diseases are endemic is a constant concern. We must be extremely vigilant with our biosecurity procedures.
EI: What erosive diseases do you encounter?
GJC: As a health professional I’m concerned over the incidence and severity of ILT. I look forward to the day when we cease using live chick embryo origin vaccine which, according to scientists at the University of Georgia, is responsible for the majority of field outbreaks. Coryza is also encountered. It can be controlled but at a cost in terms of slight production loss and administration of effective vaccines.
Although not at the top of the list, E. coli infection is responsible for substantial losses. The condition is sporadic in its occurrence but it is usually associated with defective management, environmental control and immune function.
EI: What are your views on the controversy over the use of antibiotics in food animal production?
GJC: I believe strongly that veterinarians should be able to use antibiotics for therapy applying the principles of judicious use as promoted by the FDA. I do not subscribe to the idea that we should completely ban antibiotics because this would be analogous to throwing out the baby with the bath water. As far as antibiotic growth promoters are concerned, I feel that we will have to find alternative solutions.
This is not because the public is suffering as a result of using AGPs, but because consumer resistance and the perception of harm will predicate replacement. The most important considerations in relation to alternatives to AGPs, the probiotics and prebiotics and even botanicals is whether they are as effective and can provide a positive benefit to cost ratio.
EI: You have been involved in aspects of welfare for over 20 years. How do you view current events?
GJC: I believe that those supporting animal welfare regard animals as beneficial. Animals provide food, fiber, recreation and contribute to our body of scientific knowledge. At the same time society has an obligation to provide for the needs of flocks and herds and to ensure that their existence conforms to housing and management standards which are based on scientific evaluation and measurement.
In contrast, “animal rightists” believe that animals should not be used in any way since this represents exploitation. Although advocates of animal rights are a small minority, they are extremely effective at fund raising and manipulation of public sentiment.
Unfortunately there are a number of radical organizations that are no more than domestic terrorists with scant regard for the laws of our nation or property rights. They believe that their extremist views justify any destructive actions.
I have served on boards and committees including the AVMA Animal Welfare Committee and have always followed a moderate and reasoned approach to flock welfare based on scientific and practical considerations.
EI: How do you envisage animal welfare affecting egg production?
GJC: The HSUS, which appears to be the leading umbrella group for the animal rights advocates, may be moving from state initiatives to federal legislation. If the truth be known, the HSUS is less concerned with welfare of flocks than it is in amassing funds for their avowed intent of superimposing a vegan lifestyle on our nation.
The leaders of the organization have a disproportionate concern for raising money and political action rather than devoting funds for the advancement of practical welfare. As a practicing poultry veterinarian I consider that well-managed facilities will continue and prosper but there will be some smaller operations that will not continue because of lack of available capital to allow them to make reasonable changes to their facilities.
If legislation is unreasonable and restrictions too arduous, I believe that there will be migration of production to other states or to countries where welfare and food safety oversight is much less than in the United States.
Housing systems in the future may be different from what we are currently using. Evaluation of colony systems, enriched or not, will be beneficial.
EI: How do you view training of the next generation of poultry health professionals?
GJC: There must be a balance between theory and practice. We need to support residency programs, externships and preceptorships. We may have to reevaluate material incorporated into the curricula of our veterinary colleges.
What is important is that we are faced with a burgeoning population on the earth and will have to feed over 9 billion people by 2050. This can only be achieved by applying improved technology including GMO grains, highly intensive and efficient livestock systems and distribution networks which avoid wastage.
EI: How do you view the future of egg production?
GJC: There are many in Washington at present attempting to “bring back the family farm.” In the U.S. there are many family-owned egg production enterprises with between one million and 10 million hens. These entities have grown because of efficiency and their ability to convert resources into food. They are still family farms.
It is evident that there will be more consolidation and as noted previously, housing systems will change. There is concern as to whether there will be sufficient capital available to make necessary improvements. Egg production is extremely complex and the regulatory environment is creating new demands at an ever-increasing pace.
EI: Do you have any final messages for the industry?
GJC: The diverse segments of our industry must work together. This is best achieved through our state and national organizations, which provide a voice in Washington.
Our biggest enemy is over-production. Restraint of expansion to achieve a balance between supply and demand has obvious benefits. To a large extent we have eliminated the boom and bust cycles of past decades.
Given the challenges in the future we require a new wave of professionals entering the industry that are both technically trained and politically astute and are able to make strategic decisions benefiting all stakeholders including our consumers.