By MATTHEW WEAVER
Washington state's livestock industry is uniting to take a look at animal welfare.
Washington State University's Center for the Study of Animal Well-being will host the Washington Farm Animal Welfare Symposium beginning at 8 a.m. Sept. 15 at the Smith Center for Undergraduate Education on the WSU campus in Pullman.
Jesse Robbins, program director for the Washington State Dairy Federation, said the livestock industry has seen increased pressure from consumers, retailers and processors to address concerns about animal welfare.
"It's pretty clear agriculture as a whole has focused largely on explaining what we are doing well," he said. "However, I think there's a realization that may not be sufficient to answer some of the public's questions."
The industry is committed to demonstrating the best practices, but must also discuss ways to adapt to new science, Robbins said.
"We know what the hot-button issues are in dairy welfare issues -- what are we going to do about it?" he said. "Do we need more research? Do we need to think about modifying our systems slightly? What are consumers and the public going to think about those?"
Dale Moore, director of veterinary medicine extension at WSU's College of Veterinary Medicine, doesn't expect major changes in store for producers.
"Many of our producers are already doing many of the right things," she said.
For others, just having the conversation will lead them to assess whether there's anything they need to work on, she said.
The symposium will bring industry leaders and regulatory representatives together for frank discussion "and maybe a little disagreement, I suspect," Robbins said about how to address animal welfare issues.
WSU professor Jaak Panksepp, whose work has informed poultry and dairy welfare issues, will deliver the keynote address.
Other topics on the symposium agenda include ethical and political implications of animal welfare decisions, building consumer trust in animal agriculture and an industry panel discussion.
Moore said the conference will provide the latest information on animal welfare. She is hopeful food-animal veterinarians will consider attending.
"Sometimes it's not a conversation veterinarians have with their clients," she said.
Moore said it's preferable for the industry to be proactive in discussions before facing potential legislative changes.
"It's better to be at the front of the line saying, 'Yes, I understand what the issues are, here are the things we're already doing about it and here are some of the things we might consider,'" she said.