Autumn 2003 Newsletter : UK Branch 27th Poultry Science Symposium
Chairman Andrew Walker, 2nd left, with his Stakeholder Session speakers Jason Gittins, David Bowles, David Pritchard, Patricia Parrott, David Wilkins, Ruth Layton and Andrew Joret.
While the 2005 Review of the Directive 1999/74/EC will be largely about the choice and the design of systems, many of the papers and much of the discussion at the Symposium centred on bird welfare against this background. An impressive total of 34 papers and many posters considered much of the available evidence under a number of headings:
- The importance of welfare
- The stakeholders - sustainability, global impact, consumer and producer views
- Overview of systems and physiology
- Genetic influences
- Perception and cognition
- Health and disease
- Stockmanship and the quality of the environment
- Handling, transport and slaughter
Poultry are now recognised as sentient beings, but it is also clear that they do not handle information in the same way that we do. However, bird behaviour is recognised as being critical, while remembering that individuals do vary in their needs. It is perhaps the behaviour of the individual in the group environment which becomes critical with new selection methods beginning to succeed in reducing the problems of aggression in group housed flocks.
It is evident that there is no ideal system of egg production with each system having its own drawbacks. The existing laying cage appears to present the bird with a barren environment, while "enrichments" only offer the bird our ideas for improving its life and may actually cause other welfare problems. More extensive systems, while being embraced by some retailers and consumers, seem to be causing far more uncertain results in terms of both health and welfare.
On the basis that science can produce evidence but not proof, welfare is a very complex subject to discuss. It is recognised that prejudices do exist on all sides and that great care must be taken in the interpretation and implementation of scientific work. However, ultimately many different interests will have to be reconciled and a balance struck between welfare, socio-economic and environmental needs.
Perception and Cognition Session speakers Dorothy McKeegan, Neville Prescott, Christine Nichol and Sandra Wilson
The results of the current round of World Trade Organisation negotiations will decide whether the EU can protect a possible future high cost, high welfare egg market against low cost, low welfare imports from elsewhere in the world. If it cannot, then any attempt to push welfare boundaries within the EU very far will succeed only in exporting our egg businesses, along with their perceived welfare problems, to less well controlled third countries.
UK Branch President Paul Hocking sums up the meeting.
Further work is undoubtedly still required and there are many unanswered questions, but the bringing together of workers from so many disciplines has gone a long way towards assembling the evidence which the EU Review will need to consider in 2005.
The proceedings of Poultry Science Symposium 27 "Welfare of the Laying Hen" will be published as part of the Poultry Science series at the end of March 2004 by CABI Publishing.
Report from John Parsons, Secretary of the UK Branch of
Photographs by kind permission of Dr Claire Weeks.