By TIM AMLAW
For the Capital Press
The wealth of recent headlines in Oregon and Washington about legislation aimed at improving welfare for egg-laying hens might be news to many residents of those states -- and for that matter, many Americans -- but it's a subject we've been focused on at American Humane Association for more than a decade.
That's how long it's been since we established the country's first, and now largest, third-party farm animal welfare program -- American Humane Certified.
The American Humane Certified label wasn't created to launch legislative initiatives, though. Instead, the goal has always been to establish the most comprehensive, science-based standards to improve farm animal welfare, and then employ third-party audits to ensure certified food producers meet those standards on an annual basis.
Our advisory panel of animal scientists and veterinarians, which includes Joy Mench from the University of California-Davis and world-renowned expert Temple Grandin, constantly works to keep us abreast of the latest research and developments.
So while American Humane Association didn't write the Washington bill, we're encouraged that our stringent standards for housing are included and that citizens, legislators and egg producers in that state and Oregon are taking a proactive approach to find a solution that works for everyone. This mirrors something we've learned over the years: There's more than one way to achieve humane animal welfare.
That's not a message everyone embraces. Some organizations would suggest there is only one answer when it comes to egg-laying hens. This narrow approach, supported by focused ballot initiatives and sensational undercover videos, ignores the strong science now incorporated into current legislative efforts to mandate enriched colony housing, which offers a humane and practical alternative. Instead, the ballot initiatives push for standards that objective observers believe would prove ruinously expensive for farmers and consumers alike.
Thanks to ever-evolving technology and research, American Humane Certified endorses and certifies not one, but three humane housing solutions to improve welfare for egg-laying hens: free-range, cage-free and aviary, and enriched colony housing. Using any one of those three housing options not only improves welfare for the hens, it improves food safety and quality.
American Humane Association also is involved in efforts to improve animal welfare in Ohio, where since 2009 our experts have provided guidance to the Ohio Livestock Care Standards Board, which is charged with the task of creating standards for the care and well-being of livestock in that state.
Much like the legislative projects in Washington and Oregon, we're encouraged by the work because it is designed as an open, transparent process that considers the information offered by experts and is also open to comment from Ohio citizens. As similar opportunities present themselves, whether they be in legislative efforts or in support of those seeking improved science-based standards such as in Ohio, American Humane Association stands ready to share our expertise.
It's worth noting that scores of North American food producers -- whether they raise beef cattle or run a dairy operation -- have already made the decision to improve animal welfare at their own operations, whether or not it is mandated by legislation. These enlightened businesses are not only making the right ethical choice, but the right practical one, as increasing numbers of consumers are rightly demanding that animals that produce food for our tables be humanely treated. Which explains why we now certify food producers representing over 60 million farm animals and more than 90 percent of North American "cage-free" egg production.
As some of the stories coming out of Washington and Oregon -- as well as Ohio -- have pointed out, finding a path to the best possible animal welfare legislation can be an often controversial, emotional and complex effort. Rather than shy away from the challenge, we want to encourage all parties to continue efforts to improve animal welfare using science and research to show the way.
Humane treatment should be closely considered by farmers, consumers and food suppliers not only because it's the "right" thing to do, but because it's better for the health and welfare of both animals and people.
Tim Amlaw is the vice president of American Humane Certified, the farm animal welfare program of American Humane Association. Amlaw has more than 35 years' experience in the agricultural and beef industries. Prior to joining American Humane, he was the CEO of Beef Plus Inc. of Denver. He founded the first brand certification for tenderness by the USDA, and has worked on the development and integration of natural organic products into the beef industry for 35 years.