Interview with Dr Dorothy McKeegan

Dr Dorothy McKeegan is a senior lecturer in animal welfare and ethics at the University of Glasgow, UK. She has a particular interest in poultry welfare and in this interview she talks about her role in poultry welfare research and her hope for improvements in this area. She also discusses the need for ethical education for consumers and the legal protection of invertebrates.

1. Throughout your career you have been involved on a number of important projects regarding poultry welfare, what do you consider to be your most significant achievement or contribution to this field?

In terms of welfare impact, my work on infrared beak trimming in hens was important.  I examined the long-term welfare implications of infrared beak trimming which is applied to reduce or prevent damaging pecking.  The results directly influenced UK policy debate, being instrumental in preventing a ban on beak trimming that was due to be enacted in 2011 and would have exposed 35 million UK laying hens to potential pecking injury or death.  Although all mutilations are undesirable, injurious pecking in laying hens remains a complex and intractable problem and unpredictable pecking outbreaks are more likely and more severe in intact beak flocks. My work provided evidence that infrared beak trimming represents a refinement compared with previous beak trimming approaches, and suggested that the welfare costs imposed by infrared beak trimming are probably justified while it remains the case that we cannot reliably control injurious pecking under commercial conditions.

2. You work alongside stakeholders in the poultry industry to improve welfare in transport, humane slaughter and husbandry practices, what do you hope for the future in terms of animal welfare improvements and regulations in this area?

Given the very large numbers of birds involved in the poultry industry and their low individual value, it will always be a challenge to protect their welfare.  I hope for a move towards slower growing broiler chickens (grown for meat), since most of the welfare problems they face relate to their rapid growth rate.  I also hope for better welfare conditions at slaughter for poultry and for the abolition of all slaughter without stunning.

3. You teach Animal Welfare and Ethics at University of Glasgow, do you think ethics of animal use is considered enough within the animal industry?

I think those working in the animal industry are working against a backdrop of acceptance that those activities are generally ethically acceptable.  Realistically, it is difficult for those involved to question that, but I would highlight that there are many people in the industry who care deeply about animal welfare, and in my view that isn’t necessarily at odds with using animals for food. Personally, I think some forms of intensive farming are over exploitative, and our use of animal products as a society is profligate.  Better education of consumers would go a long way to making sure that people know where their food comes from, and would hopefully encourage them to pay a fair price for animal products. 

4. All animals, arguably, need more legal protection, but are there any species which you feel deserve more legal and scientific attention than they currently receive?

I think the welfare of invertebrates is a really interesting topic, and there is some tantalising work suggesting ability to feel pain in crustaceans and molluscs, for example.  More research into the capabilities of these animals and their capacity to suffer is needed but there is a lack of funding in this area.  Convincing evidence of sentience in invertebrates would have big implications for animal protection legislation as they currently have very little legal protection.


* Any views or opinions represented in this interview are personal and belong solely to the interviewee, and do not necessarily represent the views or policies of World Animal Protection.