Column: Social and economic goals compete

03-03-2011 | | |
Column: Social and economic goals compete

As our industries become increasingly sophisticated, they are faced with more and more decisions that involve social goals as well as economic ones.

By Dr. Peter Hunton, Past President WPSA

Take, for example, the advocacy in a recent WP column, that broilers be grown in cages. This has been a possibility almost as long as the broiler industry has existed. Hygiene and disease control, space requirement, heating and ventilation cost, and feed conversion are among the many economic benefits. But society hates cages! The egg industry has been dragged (kicking and screaming) to the point where in most of Europe significant volumes of eggs have to be produced in non-cage environments to satisfy “consumer” demand. Never mind that many of the consumers don’t really understand all of the scientific issues or alleged “welfare benefits”, the retail industry have dictated their terms of business and we have to accede to them.
Use of antibiotics is another hot issue. Now banned in most of Europe for both prophylactic and therapeutic use, largely on the basis that they may contribute to bacterial resistance to anti-biotics among human users, these useful drugs are now in limbo. Society is demanding “drug-free”, “vegetarian” poultry meat. Never mind that poultry are not naturally vegetarian, or that they sometimes suffer from drug-treatable diseases just like people. For our industry to continue to supply competitively priced, good quality products to the large urban communities around the world, we need to have available the complete range of disease control strategies: prophylactic antibiotics, coccidiostats, drug treatments as well as biosecurity and other preventive measures. While it is true to state that the development of coccidiosis vaccines has been hastened by the banning of drugs, it is surely best for all concerned that all methods of control are available so that the industry can make intelligent and cost-effective choices.
Finally (for this column) the question of “organic” products. While it is obviously in our best interest to meet this demand, it is in many cases, a truly wasteful method of production. In some instances, productivity is reduced because organic feed cannot supply nutrients to meet the birds’ genetic potential production. Land is used for ranging flocks that could otherwise produce valuable crops. Resources are engaged that could be more usefully used for other purposes. While nobody is suggesting universal adherence to organic methods, it is clear that the poultry industry could simply not meet the demand from large urban markets (think Sao Paulo, Beijing, Mumbai, etc.) if it had to produce using the methods advocated by our increasingly “green” societies in the western world.