CANADA: Widowski named to research chair
Posted: May 23rd, 2011 - 10:37am
Source: Agri 007
Congralations to Dr. Tina Widowski on being chosen the first-ever research chair in laying-hen welfare – a total of $770,000 over seven years from Egg Farmers of Canada.
Widowski has earned a reputation as an outstanding welfare researcher and is director of the Campbell Centre for the Study of Animal Welfare at the University of Guelph.
Her research challenge is to compare the bird welfare of various types of housing, such as cages, enriched cages and aviaries.
Widowski presented a literature review of research on this very issue last year at a meeting organized by the Poultry Industry Council. The review made it clear that there are benefits and drawbacks to all forms of housing, including allowing hens freedom to range outdoors.
One of the factors is exposure to manure which can cause infections and diseases. Manure falls away from hens housed in cages. They tramp in it when they are housed in aviaries or free-range systems.
Outdoors brings exposure to more risks to bird welfare.
Caging birds in small quarters denies them their desire to nest and dust bathe. It probably also elevates stress and contributes to feather pecking .
Critics of caging birds have waged expensive campaigns to persuade the public and retailers to promote cage-free and free-range eggs. Loblaws, for example, has promised that it will ban caged-egg production for its President’s Choice line, but informed sources say that fulfilling that promise has been challenging in terms of lining up supplies.
There are rumours that Loblaws will soon reach a deal with Ontario’s leading egg-grading companies so it can announce a launch before the end of May.
Both Grayridge and Burnbrae already offer free-range eggs to major retail customers, such as Wal-Mart and Loblaws.
Svante Lind of Best Choice Eggs made a proposal a couple of years ago that egg producers willing to undertake the higher costs to produce cage-free and free-range eggs get a break on 3,000 units of quota. The egg board rejected that proposal.
Harry Pelissero, general manager at the egg board, has consistently said that the board does not favour one production approach over another and that it’s up to farmers and their customers to decide what to produce under the quota they hold.
E-mails in court files indicate otherwise. Pelissero sought the help of Bill Gray of Grayridge and the Hudsons of Burnbrae Farms - which together handle more than 90 per cent of Ontario's eggs - to head off imports when Ontario markets are short of these niche-market eggs.
However, when the two big graders seek supplementary import permits for "regular" eggs, they seem to have no opposition from Pelissero in obtaining them.
Supplementaries often come in just before Christmas, but the last two years there have been so many eggs left over, and coming to market in January, that the grading stations and egg processors have had trouble finding enough proper storage space and processing capacity.