Farm Fires: Linking Hen Welfare and Risk Management

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Recent press coverage about fires at layer operations highlights the intertwined interests of protecting hen welfare with the business case for strong fire prevention practices.

Fires and the loss of animals’ lives are taken personally by farmers. It violates their most basic farmer instincts, and there is no disagreement that protecting animal welfare must include protecting them from deaths due to accidental fires. Fire deterrents on many egg farms generally include some of the best and most advanced house designs with fire prevention explicitly in mind. The egg farming community is aggressively investigating the causes of these fires to develop modifications to housing systems to add greater levels of fire prevention. Protecting hen welfare demands it.

In contrast, an article by Dena Jones, an animal welfare activist, “Big Ag Lets Hundreds of Thousands of Farm Animals Die in Barn Fires Every Year,” states that these fires happen because proven “fire deterrents are completely ignored” and because “factory farm operators” are “insured against such losses” of animals that are nothing more than “expendable commodities.” Ms. Jones advocates for new federal laws to “protect farm animals from barn fires” and for new, mandatory “fire codes designed to protect farm animals.”

The business realities of risk management demand greater levels of fire protection as well. The size of the financial losses from these fires drive up the cost of insurance and even threaten its availability. This is the point made in “Risk management: Protect egg farms, lower insurance cost,” in WattAg. The article discusses how insurers believe that the “root causes” of fires can be “pinpointed” and that even though “it is impossible to engineer 100% of the risk out of anything” that “many of the recent fire losses could have been mitigated.” Producers adopting “stronger protocols and practices” can better control the total cost of risk.

Modern commercial egg farming can, and does, protect hen welfare and is working to increase this through better fire prevention. UEP welcomes the opportunity to work with its members to help make this happen.  See  UEP’s newsletter article from two weeks ago about the possible causes of fires over the years, both in and out of the UEP insurance program.

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