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Professor Ian Lean, of the school of  Veterinary Science  at Sydney University, and spokesman for the 35 scientists who support hormone fed livestock, responds here to criticism from Voiceless animal rights chairman Brian Sherman that he and his colleagues are funded by drug companies and thus biased. Mr Sherman’s letter follows Professor Lean’s comments.

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PROF LEAN ASKS I PUBLISH THIS BEFORE HIS LETTER:

i) The opinions expressed are my own and not those of the Faculty – these are made as an individual

ii) The goal is to constantly improve the environment and well-being of animals – my comments in regard to pig confinement were made in the context of how did confinement systems arise – It was to protect piglets from deathand injury. Recent very good research at the University of Sydney has been directed to improving the safety and environment for pigs. The pig industryis adopting new and improved standards.

iii) While many of your respondents are vegetarian, they can acknowledge that the majority of humans are not. There are good reasons in terms of human health for that. Our role as veterinarians is to ensure that the animals bred for food production are kept in the optimal conditions for their health and productivity. We are passionate about ensuring that these animals are well cared for and that their lot is continually improved.

iv) Companies that make animal production uneconomic through strategies that deprive producers of any return, let alone a fair economic return, eg the milk pricing war, will unfortunately impact on animal health and human well-being (in the case of farmers). It needs to be acknowledged that unfettered market competition is not a model that protects animal well-being, nor that of producers, nor ultimately consumers. Marketing gimmicks can  have serious implications for all these and the environment.

Regards Ian

Farm animals – reality before ideology, please

Adjunct Professor Ian Lean and farm industry specialists argue that in a discussion about animal welfare, the realities should be separated from the ideologies.

We appreciate Mr Sherman’s enthusiasm for animal well-being. His passion matches our own. Mr Sherman accuses our group of scientists as having a vested interest in agribusiness; yet almost everyone in our community has a vested interest in agribusiness. Agriculture feeds our community. Farmers are in business and must make a living to support their family and provide stewardship to their stock.

If, however, Mr Sherman is implying that our vested interest extends to any conflict of interest, that is not correct. The concerned scientists include individuals who lead University Departments and Faculties and acknowledged for their life-long contributions to agriculture and the community. Many are invited Fellows of professional scientific societies, and are among the most highly cited in their fields internationally. Collectively, we greatly exceed 2000 publications in internationally peer-reviewed journals, and texts, including Nature and The Lancet.

While some of us may have received funding through pharmaceutical companies, this would be a very small percentage of our research funding as individuals or as a group. We have an independent voice in this matter and asked for support from the Animal Health Alliance to put our view to the public, because of:

i)               our substantial concerns with the position of Coles
ii)              our desire to present our views in a simple format to minimise information filtering and mis-quotation in public forums.

Mr Sherman misrepresents our position on pig housing. We support an orderly move to phase out gestation crates. Our concern is that Coles invoked a more immediate ban, when the Australian pork industry has already taken a voluntary position to phase out sow stalls. In doing this, the pork industry recognized i) the cost of this change and ii) the need to undertake research to ensure that pig welfare can be maintained in new production systems, while also maintaining production efficiency.

The phase out is essential to ensure the well-being of pigs, the environment and the farm. Confinement systems were developed to improve the health of sows and piglets. As we re-design sow housing it is imperative that we get it right through appropriate research. We suggest that those who care strongly about animal welfare, consider donating to the strong research groups residing in Australia’s Universities and national scientific laboratories.

Mr Sherman attempts to claim a moral ascendancy for his positions through invoking an argument that we must ‘know and feel instinctively’ natural is better. In doing so, he indulges in a ‘naturalistic fallacy’. We refute the ‘naturalistic fallacy’. If we relied on such ‘natural systems’, humans would live to an average of around 35 years, frequently die in child birth, and suffer high rates of infant mortality. Similar gains to those in human health have been achieved for animals through comparable improvements to their environment, health and nutrition.

Animal productivity gains made through scientific endeavour are equally impressive. ‘Natural systems’ could not feed the current human population, let alone the ever increasing population. For example, we do not have the land or biosecurity systems to manage the animal welfare and environmental difficulties of large numbers of sows ‘ranging over kilometres’ in any significant population density as suggested by Mr Sherman.

When farmers are placed under immense financial pressure, efficiencies in production must be achieved without compromising animal welfare. Commercial interests must be held accountable to the community for the impacts that they have on rural populations, infrastructure, the environment and the animals from which their products are derived. We are already hearing from very distressed dairy farmers as a result of the cut in milk price.(1)

Technologies such as the hormonal growth promotants that substantially reduce the environmental impact of producing food and that can benefit cattle well-being and improve returns to farmers are critical to sustain our animal protein supply. We note the destructive effects of supermarket policy in the UK on their agriculture and do not want to see the same errors made here and placing regional and possibly national food security at risk. After the disasters of the last 15 years, the UK is turning to more efficient agricultural systems as they recognize the looming world food crisis.(2)

We restate our position that in our view the policies of Coles are bad for people, bad for animals and bad for the environment.

Adjunct Professor Ian Lean, BVSc PhD (California) MACVSc, Past President Australian Cattle Veterinarians, Gilruth Medallist

1. http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/S13666.pdf

2. Beddington J (2011) Foresight: The future of food and farming. UK Office of Science.

http://sd.defra.gov.uk/2011/01/global-food-and-farming-futures/

Brian Sherman speaks

AN OPEN LETTER TO PROF LEAN

BY Brian Sherman former chairman of Channel Ten and founder of Voiceless; and Annemarie Jonson

GROCERY retail giant Coles has unjustly come under fire from a group reportedly led by Ian Lean, adjunct professor of veterinary science at the University of Sydney and managing director of SBScibus, formerly known as Strategic Bovine Services and Cattle Production Consultants.

Lean claims Coles’s policy to stock only hormone growth promotant-free beef and to phase out pork sourced from gestation crates is “bad for the environment” and “bad for animals”.

His sentiments were echoed in a full-page advertisement in The Australian co-signed by his colleagues, including the chief executive of the Animal Health Alliance, a veterinary pharmaceutical lobby group that includes HGP manufacturers. The ad denounced Coles’s policies as a “threat to the sustainable and ethical production of food”. To those of us without a vested interest in animal agribusiness, this threat appears to be doublespeak for an encouraging movement in the right direction by Coles.

Clive Phillips, professor of animal welfare at the University of Queensland and Voiceless scientific councillor, has said of HGPs, “These growth promoters are most effective in intensive feedlot systems for cattle, and with a rapidly expanding world population we should be moving to more sustainable systems that don’t use large quantities of cereal grain in cattle feed. The risks to the environment, and to animal welfare, are not worth the small improvement in growth efficiency that HGPs provide.”

There is scientific evidence that HGPs predispose cattle to a dramatic reduction in resting time, and render them more susceptible to climatic extremes, increasing the risk of heat stress. According to the RSPCA the potential side effects of HGPs include infection at the site of the implant injection, aggressiveness, nervousness and rectal prolapse. Notably, HGPs are banned in Europe. But HGP use is just one in a complex web of technologies underpinning the intensification and corporatisation of farming.

Many have a more direct and demonstrably adverse impact on animals. Gestation crates, also known as sow stalls, are metal cages, often with concrete or slatted floors, in which female breeding pigs are individually confined for much of their adult life. These cages are only slightly larger than the pig’s body. Confined sows suffer from poor health including skin ulcerations, reduced muscle mass, bone strength and cardiovascular health, joint damage, urinary infections and gastrointestinal problems. They are unable to exercise any of their natural behaviours.

If you kept your dog like this you would be subject to criminal prosecution. Britain banned sow stalls in 1999. The EU has banned them (except for the first four weeks of pregnancy) from 2013 and in the US they have been banned in a number of states. New Zealand and Tasmania have also committed to a ban. Even our pork industry’s peak body announced last year it will phase them out by 2017. The Australian government is still the international laggard. Voiceless is calling on the commonwealth to follow industry’s lead and revise the model code of practice for pigs to ban these cages. Lean and his colleagues deride the “emotion” that motivates those concerned with animals and their wellbeing.

But as consumers make animal-friendly choices, they are showing compassion is not so easily disregarded. Coles, and other retailers are making strategic decisions to embrace animal welfare and consumer preferences for responsibly produced animal products. So too, with less fanfare, is Woolworths. It removed cage eggs from its Select brand in 2009, has introduced several free-range deli lines, and is sourcing about 40 per cent of its pork from non-sow stall production systems.

The factory farmed animal is coming into view as a sentient being, with complex social and family behaviours, intelligence and a wide range of emotions. Basic decency demands that we take seriously these animals’ needs to be free of suffering and to exercise their rich behavioural repertoires. Lean and his colleagues in animal agribusiness would do well to reflect on this. As Albert Einstein wrote: “our task must be to free ourselves from the prison house” of our personal desires by “widening the circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures”.

Brian Sherman is co-founder of animal protection think tank Voiceless Annemarie Jonson is Voiceless’s head of corporate communications.

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