MSU Researchers Receive Animal Welfare Planning Grant

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A $400,000 planning grant will bring together animal welfare experts from Michigan State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and several other universities to develop a proposal to establish the Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) for the Health and Welfare of Egg-Laying Hens.

Funded by the American Egg Board (AEB), the CAP planning grant comes amidst mounting consumer and food retailer concerns about animal production practices—concerns that are often narrowly targeted toward a specific practice or behavior rather than examining a proposed change with respect to the entire system.

“Approval of this planning grant by the American Egg Board extends beyond the funding dimension,” said Janice Swanson, MSU animal welfare researcher and planning grant leader. “Supporting this groundbreaking project sends a very clear signal that the egg industry is open to a systematic social and scientific examination of U.S. egg production.”

In addition to Swanson, a professor in the MSU colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and Natural Resources, other planning project leaders are Joy Mench, an internationally recognized poultry scientist from the University of California, Davis, and Paul Thompson, MAES researcher, who holds the W.K. Kellogg Chair in Agricultural, Food and Community Ethics. The project coordination team includes scientists from Purdue University, Iowa State University, Washington State University and the USDA Agricultural Research Service. Other institutions and stakeholders will participate through expert study groups.

The planning will be conducted in two phases. The first will identify key issues, formulate the study questions and develop research priorities. During this phase, the project coordination team will conduct two-day workshops on the effects of egg production system changes on hen health and welfare; food safety, security and quality; human health; the environment; and economics, labor and the supply chain.

The team also will examine public attitudes toward egg production practices and the shaping of constructive public discourse and action.

“Although consumer attitudes play a major role in shaping public policy, there has been very little scholarly attention paid to U.S. public attitudes toward laying hen housing systems,” Thompson said.

In the second phase, a multi-institutional team will write the CAP proposal and then submit it to the USDA for funding.

During both planning phases, key stakeholders will be involved, including representatives from animal protection, environmental and consumer organizations.

If the proposal is approved by the USDA, the CAP will support research to create an integrated model in which proposed changes to egg production systems can be evaluated to predict potential effects on the entire system. This integrated egg production practices model could possibly be modified and used in other animal production systems.

“Many factors can affect the well-being of laying hens and the sustainability of egg production systems,” Mench said. “To appropriately assess and advance this area, an integrated approach that evaluates all factors from the farm to the consumer must be considered. We have not developed an integrated systems model of U.S. egg production that will allow us to adequately predict the effects of a change on all components of the system.”

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