Euthanasia is an uncomfortable and unfortunate reality of livestock production; however, a critical part of both veterinary medicine and livestock handling is to determine when euthanasia is necessary and how to do it humanely.

As Grant Dewell, DVM, MS, PhD, and Suzanne Millman, BSc (Agr), PhD, explained at a pre-conference workshop prior to the 4th International Symposium on Beef Welfare in Ames, Iowa, euthanasia isn’t just an on-the-farm issue anymore.

It’s becoming increasingly more important to be aware of how the public perceives pain, suffering and humane euthanasia as more and more consumers worry about how their food is grown or raised. It is important to realize a majority of the public is generations removed from the farm, and it is this gap between agriculture and consumers that makes it vital to openly discuss why euthanasia is an essential and humane aspect of animal welfare.

“Many of consumers are disconnected from animal agriculture, that’s why it’s helpful to discuss why we have to euthanize animals,” Millman told the packed room.

She referenced a 2007 American Farm Bureau survey to expand on her point. In the survey, available here, 95 percent of participants said it was important that animals on farms are well cared far. More than 80 percent believed farm animals experience roughly the same ability to feel pain and discomfort as humans.

As the survey shows, the public is concerned about animal welfare, and their perception has a strong influence on today’s agricultural policies and industry standards.

 Millman added, “The more confidence the public has in animal agriculture’s programs to safeguard animal care, the less likely we are to see them legally regulate our policies.”

Determining when to euthanize an animals and the most humane method to do it aren’t the only concerns. Those within the livestock industry must be cautious of the language used to avoid appearing or becoming insensitive.

Both Dewell and Millman are associate professors at Iowa State University.

Look in an upcoming issue of Bovine Veterinarian for more on euthanasia.