WATT Global Media hosted a panel discussion on broiler welfare at the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta on February 1, 2018. I had the pleasure of moderating what turned out to be a lively and informative discussion that had relevance to both layers and meat birds.

One of the core standards for all Global Animal Partnership (GAP) animal agriculture welfare programs is that no antibiotics, animal byproducts in the feed or added hormones can ever be used. This means that if birds get sick and have to be treated with antibiotics, then they are no longer part of the GAP Program. Meat from broilers or the eggs from layers that have been treated have to be marketed elsewhere. This could put an egg producer in quite a difficult spot if their flock is treated early in the laying cycle.

During our panel discussion, Dr. Suzanne Dougherty, executive vice president of the American Association of Avian Pathologists and a consulting veterinarian with Pecking Around Consulting, said that the overall reduction in the use of antibiotics by poultry producers has been positive for the industry, but she added that situations do arise when birds need to be treated. The ethical thing for the veterinarian and the producer is to treat sick birds, but the GAP program creates an economic penalty for producers who do the right thing and treat sick birds.

Why doesn’t GAP put bird welfare first and recognize that some GAP birds will need to be treated? The standard could recognize judicious use of antibiotics for therapeutic treatment, which would put bird welfare ahead of a no-antibiotics-ever marketing claim.

“Our industry is very supportive, and we’ve come a long way with animal welfare,” Dougherty said. “This is just one of those things that we need to keep continuing to talk about and make sure we do have the ability to make those calls when necessary for the birds from a welfare perspective.”