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Micromanagement of Standards

  

Mar 24, 2017

    

In discussions with equipment suppliers at the 2017 Midwest Poultry Federation Convention Exhibition it became apparent that there is considerable confusion over specific standards imposed by various welfare certifying agencies. 

It is appropriate to specify broad parameters such as stocking density, feeding space per bird and other quantitative requirements. Problems arise in over-specifying details of design which represents micro-management.

This possibly arises from the perceived need for certifying agencies to “out welfare” their competition. Approval of installations and setting standards has less to do with welfare than with generating revenue.

  

In one case, after payment of salaries and expenses, the excess is channeled back into activities which are contrary to the interests of the intensive livestock industries which these agencies purport to assist.

This is analogous to the situation in China where condemned prisoners have to pay for the bullet used to execute them.  In the case of one organization profits are used in a more benign manner to support other welfare activities including companion animals and service dogs. 

Irrespective of the motivation, micromanaging specifications is disruptive and adds to the cost of equipment.  A case in point is the diameter and configuration of perches.  Most certifiers require a round or rounded perch placed in a specific location. 

A prominent international manufacturer of aviaries has designed an exceedingly efficient perch which is not only comfortable for hens but also aligns the flock to face in a single direction to prevent fecal contamination of eggs and the area in front of modules.  This perch may or may not be acceptable to auditors based on the standards imposed by certifying agencies or in many cases the specific discretion (dare we say prejudice?) of auditors.

On evaluation, there appears to be little justification for specific requirements since these are not based on established scientific principles with experimentation at the level of a peer-reviewed publication.  In many cases the inclinations and personal opinion of individuals are adopted through a process of consensus by an Advisory Board. In some cases, decisions on specifications are based on EU standards which may or may not be applicable to U.S. housing and management conditions, climate and predators.

It is hoped that a more realistic attitude towards standards and specifications could be developed.  Over the next nine years more than 200 million hens will have to be re-housed from conventional cages at a cost exceeding $40 per bird.  This magnitude of investment presumes a level of knowledge and responsibility on the part of certifiers which transcends creating regulations in an academic vacuum. 

The U.S. egg production industry should establish common ground with equipment manufacturers and to speak authoritatively and forcefully on welfare, equipment and housing standards. Both ends of the transaction are being subjected to unjustified and unnecessary expense as a result of imperfectly defined standards and specifications. Ultimately shareholders and consumers will bear the cost of inappropriate decisions based on sentiment and pseudo-science.

As with all editorials and commentaries posted on EGG-CITE and CHICK-CITE, responsible rebuttals will be considered and posted if informative to subscribers.