Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability


Insider's view: Perspective on pain

Understanding and anticipating the changes needed

Posted: November 14, 2013

Photo credit: Calgary Stampede

There's no reason for delay in taking charge of the pain issue, says Dr. Ed Pajor of the University of Calgary.

"If you think about some of the other issues that we've been dealing with in the farm animal community, such as gestation stalls, they are relatively complex. People don't really understand the full context of why stalls are used and the implications of making changes. Yet look at the influence that the concern over this has created in society - it has created an environment where industry is changing practices under pressure. By comparison, it's going to be very easy to have a conversation about animal pain and pain mitigation. The pressure can rise that much more quickly."

New options emerging

Today it's already clear that animal pain is an important societal concern and the focus is broadening from pets to farm animals. New options for measuring and mitigating pain in farm animals related to procedures such as castration, dehorning and others, are not only possible but increasingly practical. While more research is needed on a number of fronts, "that doesn't mean that we should do nothing now," says Pajor.

"Science is important but it doesn't tell us what to do," says Dr. Ed Pajor.

"There's a huge danger in adopting the strategy that just because we can't measure pain as specifically or as accurately as we would like; or just because we don't have all the drugs and all the protocols in place that we would like; that we delay action until we have more answers. Science is important but it doesn't tell us what to do. The question is, what can we do now while we continue to learn more? There are options we implement now to help us get ahead."

Taking charge

Industry and other farm animal care stakeholders in Canada are getting on the right track, he says. One key example of progress is the work toward updated Codes of Practice that include updated approaches and recommendations for pain mitigation. Another is new support for research into improved understanding and solutions for animal pain.

As new and improved pain mitigation options become available, it's important that industry is proactive in learning about them and implementing them in a timely fashion, he says, particularly when these are "low-lying fruit" options that are relatively straightforward to adopt and not cost prohibitive.

"The good news is that the industry seems to be increasingly aware of the issues around pain and that is translating to more of a proactive stance," says Pajor. "Ultimately, that is the approach we need for animal agriculture to be able to manage welfare issues more on its own terms rather than having changes imposed by others."

Practices in animal agriculture, like those in any industry, will see a constant evolution, he says. But livestock industries have choices in how they manage this progression. "Agriculture is seen as responding slowly to a lot of issues. I think that has to change, including specifically around the issue of animal welfare. This is no longer a fringe issue that's way out there. It's now part of the business of doing agriculture. Management practices in particular are going to be scrutinized and we have to be ready to anticipate and act on the changes needed."

Reprintable with credit. This article is available for reprint, with acknowledgement of the source as Meristem Land and Science, www.meristem.com.

Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land use. More articles at www.meristem.com.




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