Does stress-free livestock mean safer food?

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food supply, Agriculture

Researchers in the US are to investigate the link between livestock
wellbeing and the risk of foodborne disease, a move which could
have widespread implications for animal husbandry and food safety.

Scientists from the Farm Animal Behaviour and Well-Being Laboratory, part of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) of the US Department of Agriculture, will study stress indicators in livestock with a view to determining the relationship between stress and the ability of pathogenic bacteria to establish themselves in animals.

The new laboratory will compliment work carried out by ARS since 1997 at its Livestock Behaviour Research Unit, according to ARS' acting administrator Edward B. Knipling.

"Stress in livestock can lower productivity and possibly increase the risk of contamination from Salmonella and other bacterial pathogens,"​ he said.

Donald C. Lay, research leader and animal behaviouralist at the lab, is working on an imaging system to show the movement of Salmonella bacteria through live pigs. He and colleagues are also researching alternative housing for poultry and livestock.

In tandem with the housing research, the ARS-Purdue team is pioneering the idea of breeding non-aggressive animals to reduce losses and stress. This includes selecting sows whose maternal behaviour makes them less likely to injure their piglets, a problem that costs US farmers more than $600 million annually.

In related news, researchers at Kansas State University's College of Business Administration are to help a newly formed coalition of food supply veterinary interest groups determine methods to ensure adequate veterinary involvement in the production of a continuing abundant supply of safe and wholesome food.

The $300,000 study, 'Estimating Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Demand and Maintaining the Availability of Veterinarians in Careers in Food Supply Related Disciplines in the United States and Canada,' is being commissioned by the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition and Bayer Animal Health.

The coalition's members include the Academy of Veterinary Consultants, American Association of Bovine Practitioners, American Association of Small Ruminant Practitioners, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges.

The study is being led by K-State's David Andrus, professor and head of the department of marketing, with Bruce Prince, professor of management, and Kevin Gwinner, associate professor of marketing.

"Food supply veterinary medicine encompasses all aspects of veterinary medicine's involvement in food supply systems, from traditional agricultural production to consumption,"​ Andrus said.

"This comprehensive study will be comprised of multiple research phases addressing the demand for and the availability of food supply veterinarians in the United States and Canada,"​ he said. "Additionally, the project will address student recruitment, retention and appropriate training of food supply veterinarians in order to serve society."

Andrus said the study is expected to be complete by late summer 2005.

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