Tyson Foods’ recent agreement to settle a lawsuit for falsely advertising its “raised without antibiotics” chicken brand has received limited media coverage – no doubt to the relief of the company’s boardroom. And with an annual turnover of nearly $27 billion, they probably won’t sweat too much over the $5 million that the company must now shell out as compensation to unhappy customers. In falsely marketing its chicken meat as produced from birds “raised without antibiotics” while still feeding them antibiotics, Tyson Foods was shamelessly exploiting the growing public concern over the excessive use of antibiotics in industrial farming, particularly in the form of non-therapeutic growth promoters. But while the intensive meat industry continues to vigorously oppose any attempts to reduce antibiotic use in farming, the irony is that Tyson Foods may well have inadvertently shot itself in the foot by publicly admitting that the overuse of certain antibiotics in industrial farming really is a threat to human health.
A speaker at the Oxford Farming Conference (held at Oxford University from January 5-7) reported that farming in an animal welfare-friendly way can be the key to better profitability. Alistair Lawrence from the University of Edinburgh Veterinary School continued,”It is an achievable goal to deliver animal welfare within a competitive farming system.” Professor Lawrence used examples from the dairy industry to illustrate this point, noting that the emphasis used to be on breeding for maximum yield but that this single-minded approach had led to undesirable side effects on fertility and health – ultimately increasing costs for farmers. “Today, the most profitable bulls produce daughters which yield less milk, but are healthier and live longer.”
This growing awareness of the hidden costs of poor welfare and the tangible benefits of good welfare are beginning to reshape the way farm animals are viewed on both sides of the Atlantic. However, “good welfare” is a subjective term. For too long it has meant meeting the minimum needs of an animal in order to reap the maximum profit. This confusion over the meaning of good welfare can be helped in part by third-party certifications such as Animal Welfare Approved, which provide a common, auditable definition of positive welfare.
Please visit Farmer’s Weekly Interactive for a complete conference summary.