Bird health should take precedence over label claims

Veterinarians need to be involved in flock health care decisions particularly when dealing with producing specialty products.

(Deven King)
(Deven King)

I recently wrote an article about the potential issues that producers may still have to face when it comes to cage-free production. While the article was based purely on what industry researchers presented at the U.S. Poultry & Egg Association (USPOULTRY) Live Production, Welfare & Biosecurity Seminar in Nashville, Tennessee, on September 17, I wanted to shed light on another conversation I recently had.

While interviewing multiple executives at an egg operation, we talked about the health of birds in conventional cages versus cage-free hens, and the challenges that can be associated with specialty products.

We discussed that producers put birds in cages for a reason, and that while science and advances in animal ag have given producers ways of managing cage-free housing. The scary question to think about is who and what management processes are taking place for specialty product facilities to capitalize on premium costs.

Who’s making health decisions?

Honestly, it scares me a bit to think of who is making the decisions when a specialty product is being raised.

For instance, if a no antibiotics ever (NAE) flock gets sick, who decides on whether the flock gets treated and gives up the sales premium? It was brought to my attention that in some cases the marketing/sales teams weigh heavily on this decision despite their potential lack of poultry health knowledge.

I'm not here to tell anyone how to run their operation and I will be the first to admit that I have been pleasantly surprised with how well some producers manage their flocks for specialty products. However, I hope that veterinarians are making the decisions of when and how to treat flocks. Animal activists are going to hold everyone accountable, regardless of production style, for bird welfare. As an industry, we must make sure we are not letting marketing claims interfere with proper stewardship of the animals in our care.

Without naming names, I'd like to compliment the executives I visited with that day. Their views were much like mine in that animal welfare and being held accountable is far more important than generating a premium on one specialty flock.

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