The Ethics of Laying Hen Genetics

Fernyhough, M and Nicol, C J and Van De Braak, T and Toscano, M J and Tønnessen, M (2019) The Ethics of Laying Hen Genetics. JOURNAL OF AGRICULTURAL & ENVIRONMENTAL ETHICS.

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Despite societal concerns about the welfare of commercial laying hens, little attention has been paid to the welfare implications of the choices made by the genetics companies involved with their breeding. These choices regarding trait selection and other aspects of breeding significantly affect living conditions for the more than 7 billion laying hens in the world. However, these companies must consider a number of different commercial and societal interests, beyond animal welfare concerns. In this article we map some of the relevant dilemmas faced by genetics companies in order to outline the scope of opportunities to improve welfare under current market conditions. This includes identifying cases where different animal welfare concerns conflict. We discuss the moral responsibility of laying hen genetics companies and the welfare implications that derive from the choices they make and the policies they follow. In addition to evaluating a selection of predominant current practices and breeding goals, we outline different angles from where to assess the moral legitimacy of various industry practices and policies. We discuss specific issues such as injurious pecking, bone health, induced moulting, chick culling and the circumstances of breeding stock.

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