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Published October 12, 2010, 10:04 AM

Evolving rules on animal care — from lab to farm

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Today’s livestock producers should keep an eye on university standards for animal care because those are a hint at what eventually will happen in the future on farms and ranches. Among the new issues is how genetically engineered animals are cared for.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Today’s livestock producers should keep an eye on university standards for animal care because those are a hint at what eventually will happen in the future on farms and ranches. Among the new issues is how genetically engineered animals are cared for.

“People want assurances,” says John McGlone, an animal science professor and director of the Pork Industry Institute at Texas Tech University. “They want a credible program to make sure someone is looking after the animals directly and that somebody is checking that they’re looking at the animals directly, at all levels.”

McGlone was one of the speakers at the recent Livestock Biotech Summit, sponsored by an industry trade group called the Biotechnology Industry Organization. The Sioux Falls, S.D., event attracted 200 people and started with an animal care session and ended with a genetic engineering session. Among the luminaries were South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds, who announced that his state would like to build a biotech animal research facility in the state, but gave no specifics on where, when, financial costs or sources.

Among those attending the three-day meeting were officials in charge of reviewing livestock care protocols on the region’s campuses.

‘Guide’ to protocols

The protocols are spelled out in a “Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Teaching and Research,” with new revisions published in May. The guide is put out by the Federation of Animal Science Societies. Animal care is a complicated business, with any use of livestock or laboratory animals under the care of an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

These IACUC’s were created after 1985 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture revised rules under the Animal Welfare Act. They are responsible for all animals in research and teaching on campus. The IACUC’s get their guidance on animal care from an Animal Guide, which is created by a Federation of Animal Science Societies. The latest FASS guide revisions came out in May.

Currently, universities deal with various layers of sensibilities on animal care — basic federal rules and stricter industry standards that govern care of animals owned or controlled by the institution. Some animals are governed by farmlike standards (standard operating procedures) or by biomedical standards. Some of the animals in a university’s care must float among the various jurisdictions as they are used for different things — research, breeding and other purposes.

Some of the discussion at the meeting involved hypothetical and real scenarios that come up for animals that a campus owns, some of it getting into the seemingly offbeat areas — policies for mascots, which fall under any guidelines. Other issues are what to do when commercial companies own animals on the campus that are used in research and in production. The IACUC also oversees work of wildlife biologists, whose work with wild animals is covered only when the animals are brought in from the field.

“Every animal on campus today and in companies today is covered by some regulation or guideline,” McGlone says. “And commercial agriculture has its own sets of guidelines — beef, pork and poultry producers — have their own set of guidelines for commercial farms.

“They hold themselves to it. The National Pork Board has its Pork Quality Assurance Plus program, and that program requires that facilities that use commercial pigs register with them and have a site-assessment by an educator. Next year, they’re going to start verifying the assessments were done on a sample of farms around the country.”

Asked what the delay factor is in university-style regulations hitting the farm, McGlone has no answer. He notes that the federal standards, passed in 1985, were put in place in institutions in 1988. The new pork standards are coming into play in 2011 — a nearly 25-year delay.

Large retailers that handle beef will create the push.

“McDonalds, Burger King, Wendy’s, Kroger and Safeway — they’re already going out checking as well. The marketplace requires that components of animal agriculture be audited,” McGlone says.

Gene-engineered animals

One of the primary members of BIO is Hematech Inc. of Sioux Falls, S.D.

Jerry Pommer, director of animal regulatory compliance and quality assurance for Hematech, says the conference is important because the guidelines for the first time describe how geneticallyengineered animals should be handled. Hematech is genetically modifying a bovine to produce human antibodies.

“These cows aren’t producing bovine antibodies, they’re just making human antibodies,” Pommer says. “Therefore, we can vaccinate these animals with different human pathogens, such as anthrax, and make an antibody that we can give to people in the case of an anthrax outbreak, for example. If were to give just bovine antibodies, your body would say, ‘That’s foreign; I don’t recognize it; I reject it.’ Because it’s humanized, the body accepts it.”

Hematech’s animals that are in research and development but not yet approved for commercial use were brought to the event as a demonstration that the animals in many ways are ordinary and usually require no rules other than conventional animals. Until approved by the government, the animals must be controlled so they don’t breed with conventional animals.

Also at the event:

A calf from BioDak L.L.C., a company near Kimball, S.D., which has used genetic engineering to produce prion-free and antibody-free cattle resistance to bovine spongiform encephalopathy, known as BSE, or “mad cow” disease.

n Goats from the University of Wyoming. They have a gene promotion in their milk, which produces a protein that can be used in “spider silk” production. The goats are milked and produce a protein, mixed with another biological, to make a product called “Silk,” which some of the strongest materials found in nature. They’re using that in biomedical applications for coatings on metal hip replacement materials, for example.

Pigs making replacement tissues for human transplants. The pigs have had genetic modifications to make the transplant items more acceptable to human bodies.

Pommer says biotech animals are accepted by the public if they “help Grandma, as we always say,” so applications for biomedical applications seem less controversial than modifications than for modifications regarding foods.

“As time moves on, as people become educated, as the regulatory path becomes more clear for a path to get these animals approved, it slowly becomes more acceptable,” Pommer says.

The first U.S. approval was in 2009, when the government approved a drug produced as a human protein extracted from the milk of genetically engineered goats that helps clot blood for patients.

Center for Veterinary Medicine and by Center for Biological Evaluation. A recent controversy is over the approval of fast-growing biologically modified salmon.

“We will probably in the next couple of months see some outcome,” Pommer says.

“One of the biggest concerns that a lot of the public has is the welfare of the animal,” he says.

Part of the Guide discussion is how to address genetically modified livestock, or cloning. Generally, the Ag Guide doesn’t call for any significant differences in how cloned or genetically modified animals need to be treated, versus general animals.

“Let’s say you have cows whose immune systems have been altered, then you have to give some different housing or husbandry practices in order to raise those animals, and the Guide specifies that. That basically allows universities to take this, if they want to use genetically modified animals as part of their research, or cloning, they have a guide to use to assist them in meeting these regulations.”