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New name and URL

Animal Science Review is now Fur, Farm, & Fork! Because I graduated from OSU, I have had to move the hosting for this blog to a wordpress URL.

I will continue to generate new content, with a completely unpredictable schedule as usual, at the new location. So if you’re someone who actually likes to read my content, be sure to change your bookmarks and RSS over to furfarmandfork.wordpress.com, as I will no longer update at this address.

 

Cheers,

-Austin

 

 

Where your author is coming from

The Dog Zombie (a blogger I regularly follow and is often seen on ASR) took the time to mention an address made at the 2nd UK Conference of Science Journalists, which began with a call to action:

“I think every writer, every journalist, every scholar, should tell you where he’s coming from before he tells you what he knows.”

She herself took the time to do this on her blog and I think it’s not a bad idea. While the About section on ASR gives you a good overview of my experience and education, perhaps a little more insight into my background will give readers a better hold on my personal biases, and they’ll be able to evaluate my opinions using those tools to judge them for themselves. So here we go!

 

Culturally, I am an Oregonian. While I was born in Washington and spent a few years in Texas, the majority of my sentient time growing up has been in Central Oregon, and the almost all of my education has been provided for me  in this state. I was raised within the Lutheran church, and consider myself a spiritual individual though I keep that part of my life fairly private. Socially, I’m an extrovert who believes that maturity is simply knowing when and where to be immature. Politically, I tend to be liberal on most social issues, but conservative when discussing economics and constitutional rights. Musically, I’m a long time musician who’s willing to listen to anything once, but I lack the energy or motivation to keep up with popular music of my own time. My favorite songs or pieces are usually from movie or video game scores, and I enjoy jazz and classic rock. Intellectually, I consider myself a scientist not only from my education but my need to question statements posed as fact, reluctance to describe in absolutes, and desire to evaluate evidence. I pride myself on being able to prove my own opinions wrong when presented with contradicting evidence. My desire is to someday be “an expert in my field” and make an impact on the world (at least in my field), but I haven’t yet found what that will exactly be. I love learning new things and often try to do too many new or different things, becoming a jack of all trades, when I really need to limit my interests to become a master of one.

My current goals surround gaining admission to veterinary school, however I do not see that as my only option for a career in veterinary medicine. Combined with my love of research and budding interest in microbiology, a pHD in veterinary medicine, microbiology, or public health would also allow me to study animal medicine and make my impact. I believe that scientific communication between the academic pedestal and the public is vital to making the changes to consumer and industry perspectives that will be necessary to continue feeding the world in a way that is ethical, realistic,  and sustainable. My hope is that in the future as an “expert” I can continue to find ways to reach out to those not reading journals through extension or my own personal efforts/publications.

Here’s the second portion of my paper: Do organic animal operations encourage management decisions that negatively impact animal welfare?

You can find part 1 here, or read the entire paper here.

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Welfare from an Ecocentric Perspective
Animal welfare has always been and remains to be an important goal in organic operations (Riddle, 2005; IFOAM, 2005); however, organic producers are still questioned on the welfare status of their animals because of their organic certification. Among the many definitions intended to quantify animal welfare, Frasier et al. (1997, p.187) provide three basic animal welfare ideals:

1. The animal should feel well, corresponding to the concepts of experience, feeling, interest, and preference.
2. The animal should function well, corresponding to the concepts of need and clinical health.
3. The animal should lead a natural life through the development and exercise of its natural adaptations, corresponding to the concept of the “innate nature” of the animal.

In general, livestock in conventional settings have their welfare measured using the first two ideals, with the most emphasis placed on the second. Producers are first and foremost concerned with the prevention of disease that could hurt production or cause unnecessary pain; humane slaughter laws are designed to prevent excess excitement and discomfort (National Archives and Records Administration, 2012b), and welfare audits for slaughter facilities are designed to reduce animal stress prior to slaughter (Grandin and Johnson, 2006). Using these criteria, it becomes clear how viewing welfare through the first two of Frasier’s ideals might suggest organically raised animals could have poorer welfare. It has been shown that organic farms have a higher rate of parasite-related disease (Lund and Algers, 2003), and the use of veterinary drugs is strongly suggested to be a last resort after alternative methods have been exhausted (IFOAM, 2005). There is also a financial incentive, as once antibiotics have been given to an animal, that animal cannot return to organic production (Riddle, 2008; National Archives and Records Administration, 2012a).

Through the naturalistic perspective however, welfare for organic producers can depend much less on the first two ideals, and more weight is placed on the third. This viewpoint changes the significance of the risks involved in many organic practices, such as free range housing, as both organic producers and consumers emphasize the third ideal as a priority (Alroe et al., 2001; Lund, 2006). Additionally, the ecocentric perspective further lowers the emphasis on the first two, as disease and parasites are both considered healthy parts of a larger ecosystem, and the health of the ecosystem is crucial to the health of the herd and the sustainability of the farm. This idea of looking past the individual is what causes dispute when quantifying animal welfare on the organic farm. Most producers, veterinarians, USDA inspectors, and animal owners evaluate animal welfare at the level of the individual, whereas the ecocentric organic producers are more likely to evaluate welfare at the level of the flock/herd, within the herd’s role in the overall ecosystem. At this level, a few animals in poor health are acceptable in a natural ecosystem where small amounts of disease are permissible. The ecocentric view disallows an attempt to alter a healthy system determined by nature by eradicating this small population.

Because animal welfare may be determined using more qualitative criteria in an organic operation, how do organic producers react to poor welfare or illnesses of individual animals? Organic producers hold the health of their animals high in their priorities (IFOAM, 2005; Riddle 2005), so they must be able to maintain a standard of herd health not only for the benefit of their animals, but to keep production high. As part of the naturalness or ecocentric ethos, organic producers believe that farmers should not try to take control of the environment, as conventional techniques do, but work hand in hand with nature. Thus, any method used to completely eradicate disease through the use of chemicals or medications does not promote a sustainable ecosystem, as it reveals an attempt to control the environment rather than work to bring the ecosystem back into balance (Verhoog et al., 2003). Therefore, prevention becomes key, and the U.S. organic requirements mandate preventative practices that emphasize working with nature such as selection of species and type of livestock that are appropriate to the site and resistant to prevalent disease, provision of a sufficient organic feed ration, and the use of appropriate housing, pasture management, and sanitation protocol to minimize the occurrence of pathogens (Riddle, 2008).

 

The Dog Zombie just published a post describing their feelings as they finish Vet School. It’s a profound and inspiring essay, and I encourage everyone in my position, anxiously awaiting if you’ll get to attend school this year, to give it a read. I personally hope DZ will be hiring when I graduate, or even giving the commencement when I walk.

The post is titled “Navel Gazing with a Dog Zombie”

Madeline McCurry-Schmidt is a great writer, and like me, didn’t grow up in an animal science background. She writes for ASAS Graduate BULLetin and does a great job of detailing her experience and providing great information for graduate students, including job postings! I also discovered the American Society of Animal Science through her site, and am now an undergraduate member. I probably won’t be able to take advantage of many of the benefits, but for undergraduates, membership is free, so you have nothing to lose by joining.

Anyway, after reading some of her stuff, I asked Madeline if I could write a guest post for the Graduate BULLetin and she was kind enough to publish it. So feel free to go read it there, and check out some of the other great content on her site.

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