A look into the animal care practices in Europe was presented to the Oregon Rotary and guests during Rural Urban Day.
Veterinarian Abe Trone, Lena, was invited to talk about his experience March 26 following an Illinois Farm Bureau foreign market study tour held last summer.
"I do a l lot of dairy work in Lena," Trone said. "What happens in California comes here and what is happening in Europe may be coming here."
Trone along with 11 other farm bureau members traveled through Europe to get a first hand look at the implementation of European Union laws related to animal care.
"Our objective was to see as much as we could," he said.
Animal welfare is defined to include how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. The animal needs to be healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, and not suffering from pain, fear, and distress. They need to have appropriate shelter and humane slaughter.
Trone said this definition was open to interpretation in Europe because many of the animal welfare decisions were driven by marketing.
The regulation of animal housing is a selling point for consumers, even if there is no scientific proof that it was better for the animal, he said.
One chicken farm was a large round building with a retractable roof.
"This was built following a consumer survey," said Trone. "It has Astroturf and toys for the hens to play with."
The eggs from this facility are sold in a round package with seven eggs at a cost of one dollar per egg, Trone said.
"This costs three times as much to products but people are willing to pay the premium," said Trone. "The European Union consumers have problems with small cages."
Unfortunately there are other aspects of this system that did not seem humane to Trone.
"When the spent hens are taken out of service they are ground up live for mink feed," he said. "This fact was not discussed on our visit."
On pig farms there are rules about how pigs are fed and what types of stalls they can be housed in.
These rules, Trone said, may appear beneficial on the surface, however from what he observed the animals had more injuries than how pigs are raised in the United States. Some of the injuries were not as apparent because pigs are sold at a lighter weight in Europe.
He said the piglet mortality rate was high on European farms.
Trone said the farmers he met in Europe have adapted to the rules they are required to follow and the changing market conditions.
"We visited a dairy farm in England and saw how they changed their notch to what the clients needed," said Trone. "They are adaptable. The cows in England must have daily access to a pasture in order for the farmer to sell his product."
He said for large dairy operations in the United States this could be difficult to accomplish if the same rules were adopted locally.
One law which has the potential to be adopted sooner in the United States is animal tracking.
"Animal ID is rampant in Europe," Trone said. "It is necessary and mandatory and it allows for tracking and managing of every animal."
Calves are tagged and registered within 48 hours of birth and they are issued a passport that stays with the animal.
"It is a cumbersome process but the producers liked what it allows them to do," said Trone. "The farmers are able to tell you which grocery store their products were sold at."
Products even had photos of the dairyman on a gallon of milk to let consumers know which farm produced the milk.
Trone said the volume of product is on a different scale than what American demands are.
If there was a problem the source it could be tracked immediately and addressed.
While this was beneficial, the strict regulation on antibiotics make dealing with illnesses difficult for European farmers.
"Danish farmers use one fifth the antibiotics of U.S. farmers," said Trone. "They took the antibiotics dispenses away from the veterinarian. They want 100 percent diagnoses with lab confirmation on diseases."
Trone said this takes the control away from the farmer and veterinarian.
"This adds delays with treatment," he said. "They are afraid of using antibiotics wrong and have strict penalties."
If farmers in Europe violate antibiotic rules they could be restricted from selling their products.
With all the rules and regulations, Trone said there has been an unexpected side effect.
"The farms in Europe are getting bigger which is not what was intended when the laws were created," he said.
Trone urges local farmers to try and learn about all proposed laws while there is still time for opinions to be voiced.
"We should not change laws based on non-scientific policy or public perception," Trone said. "We need to stay united."