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Killing of animals for disease control: animal welfare and ethical aspects

Mejdell CM, Nesje M, Teige J, Lund V. Dyrevelferdsmessige aspekter og etiske betraktninger ved bekjempelse av smittsom dyresjukdom. Norsk veterinærtidsskrift 2009; 121: 121-6 

Measures to control contagious animal diseases often affect large numbers of individual animals. Animal welfare consequences can therefore be extensive, not only for livestock on infected farms and in contact herds but also on farms affected by restriction of movement. Concerns for biosafety and human safety as well as time pressure may conflict with animal welfare concerns when killing methods are selected to eradicate the disease. The availability of resources and experienced personnel for killing animals may be limited. The number of animals affected by restrictions, e.g. through a ban on movement, may sometimes be significantly higher than the number of infected animals (confirmed or suspected). They may quickly outgrow their pens and resources like feed, bedding material, and human care may become short, calling for welfare slaughter. Thus, it is a huge challenge to carry out eradication measures with a minimum of animal welfare consequences.

Experiences from previous outbreaks of severe contagious animal diseases show that animal welfare considerations must be part of contingency plans. The availability of appropriate facilities, trained personnel and adequate equipment must be well organised and in place prior to any disease outbreak.

The stamping out strategy is increasingly being questioned as a method to control animal diseases. Arguments against it is not only animal welfare concerns, but also the seemingly unnecessary waste of food, environmental reasons and the big personal and emotional consequences for animal owners and other people involved. The issue requires a critical examination of established methods and evaluation of alternatives.

NVI authors

Mejdell Cecilie Marie

Forsker, fagansvarlig dyrevelferd