Research Foundation Aims to Improve the Lives of Farm Animals

AWI is pleased to learn the US Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) was recently awarded a $150,000 grant through the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) to study the impacts of environmental enrichment on pig welfare. Half of the grant was provided by FFAR and the remaining funds were matched by Nestlé and Tyson Foods. One of the goals of this study is to determine how environmental enrichment strategies currently required by law in some European countries can be applied to US pig operations. This research is critical to efforts to improve the welfare of pigs confined by the thousands in highly stressful, barren environments. With no ability to exhibit natural behaviors, pigs often take out their frustration through aggressive behaviors, such as tail biting and ear chewing. 

This study is one of several recent farm animal welfare research projects funded by FFAR, which was first established by Congress in the 2014 Farm Bill. The goal of FFAR is to support food and agriculture research through public-private partnerships and the administration of federal grants that are matched with private funding. Research projects must fall under one of FFAR’s six “challenge areas,” including one that is focused on advanced animal systems. According to the foundation’s website, the “Advanced Animal Systems Challenge Area improves animal production through innovations in animal health, welfare and productivity, antibiotic stewardship and environmentally sound production practices.” 

In addition to the aforementioned environmental enrichment study, FFAR has created and funded other initiatives focused on the Advanced Animal Systems Challenge Area. Under the SMART Broiler Research Initiative, six applicants were recently awarded grants for the development of automated technology that can assess animal welfare indicators in broiler chickens. The Egg-Tech Prize program was launched in 2019 to encourage development of new technologies that can identify the sex of chicks during the early stage of incubation. This technology will help avoid the mass culling of male chicks, a practice common in the egg industry. In 2017, funding opportunities were provided under the Accelerating Advances in Animal Welfare program for research on improving the welfare of hens in cage-free housing and developing alternatives to castration of pigs.