What does IKEA have to do with animal welfare? Interview with Priya Motupalli

Priya Motupalli, Global Sustainable Sourcing Specialist sure is a cool title for an animal welfare scientist. Tell us what you do at IKEA Food Services AB!

Thanks!  It’s a mouthful, but it’s an incredible position where I get to place animal welfare at the heart of our vision for more sustainable agriculture.  My role is to develop and support the implementation of our sustainable sourcing strategy for the animal products in our range across all of the 52 markets we operate in.

This strategy consists of a set of programmes which covers animal welfare, environmental impact, and public health issues at the farm level.  The first of these species-specific programmes, the better chicken programme, was launched publicly in the beginning of this year.

Priya with chicken

What are the principles you apply to your work?

The mission of IKEA is to create a better everyday life for the many people.  I take this to heart in my own work—I’m not interested in good animal welfare or sustainable food production getting stuck in a niche market where only a small segment of the population benefits or has access to it.  My goal is to consistently find a place for animal welfare as a core tenant of more sustainable food systems.  This isn’t simple, as there are documented trade-offs—so I try and focus how animal welfare can connect to environmental or social issues to move the conversation forward, rather than not moving at all.

We also have something called the 7 Food Principles which set the general business direction at IKEA Food—although there is a principle around animal welfare, my favourite one is actually “food is pleasure.”  Consumers are so overloaded now with information on the dos/don’ts of sustainable consumption!  I think part of our job is to ensure that they can pick up something in the Swedish food market, or dine in the Restaurant, or grab something in the bistro and simply feel good about it, without having to panic about where it was sourced, or what the working conditions were like, or how the animals were raised, etc.  Food is such an intimate, enjoyable part of our lives—and making more sustainable or healthier choices shouldn’t be a barrier to this enjoyment!

Of course, providing this experience for our customers is a journey and there is a great saying by our founder, Ingvar Kamprad that “most things remain to be done.”

In which way does animal welfare science get into your job? Do you use actual research data or methods?

Animal welfare science is a critical part of the job—and one of the main reasons I was hired!  Current research forms the backbone of any animal welfare sourcing criteria we create.  However, as the science only tells you what you can do, not necessarily what you should do, our sourcing criteria is also a product of country specific legislation, feedback from NGOs and suppliers, and customer desires.

In addition, data collection and the use of this data to improve animal welfare over time is an integral part of our better chicken programme, and will form an integral part of our other species-specific programmes as well.  Alongside any input criteria we set, we have also identified key welfare outcomes that we will measure with the help of our suppliers and retail partners.  These welfare outcome measures will provide objective information on the quality of life for animals’ specific to our supply chain. In time, we can use this information to establish key areas of improvement and apply targeted interventions.

Our first data-set related to the better chicken programme came in recently and I’m keen to get it to start working for us!

If you are interested in how IKEA works with sustainability in general: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/this-is-ikea/people-planet/

If you want to learn more about IKEA’s view on animal welfare: https://www.ikea.com/gb/en/doc/general-document/ikea-read-more-about-ikeas-view-on-animal-welfare__1364641255476.pdf

Follow Priya on twitter:@drpriyamots

Coverage of Better Chicken: http://5mpoultry.uberflip.com/i/976632-poultry-digital-may-2018/15?m4=

Bioengineering the animal or the organ?

This week, researchers in at University of Texas Medical Branch were able to show that they could produce an artificially grown lung and successfully transplant it into a mammal. Lungs were grown in the laboratory from cells from the very same pig into which the organ would later be transplanted. The procedure was tested in 4 pigs, of which one lived for 2 months with a functioning transplanted lung.

Transplantation medicine is not something I know very much about, but from being involved in the ethical discussion of both animal research and gene editing, I come across the question every now and then. To me, there seems to be two routes that are being researched at the moment: engineering animals to make xenotransplantation safer and developing the techniques to grow organs in the laboratory from cells originating in the individual who needs a new organ. The Texas team used the second approach. In the discussion of how to put the genome editing tool CRISPR to best use, xenotransplantation is often mentioned as a worthwhile objective to pursue.

It’s in the nature of research that people work on different applications for a similar purpose – in this case a way to produce organs for transplantation which will relieve transplantation medicine from the reliance on human organ donors. At this point nobody is able to tell which route will take us to the goal first. But from the perspective of the 3Rs and especially Replacement, the artificially-grown-organ approach is much more appealing. Even though animal experiments will be used in the development of the method, once it’s considered safe there will be no more need to use animals. Xenotransplantation on the other hand will mean a continued use of animals, which will be bred and kept for the purpose of providing organs for human transplantation.

Congress blogging Day 1AM: ISAE, PEI, Canada

(This blog post brought to you courtesy of the 4 h time-difference-travelling-west-kind-of-jet-lag that wakes you iup at five in the morning eager to start to DO things!)

The International Society for Applied Ethology is holding its 52nd conference in Prince Edward Island, Canada July 30-August 2 this year. For me personally as a scientist, this is the most important conference and the one I enjoy most – the latter partly thanks to my long and strong engagement with ISAE (attended my first congress in 1994, am finishing my 2nd round of being on its council this year) which means that I know so many people here, but undoubtedly also much because this is such a tremendously good humored congress.

This was evident already in the opening ceremony.  President Bas Rodenburg is clearly not intimidated by how high previous president set the bar for making people crack up laughing during presidential talks. I hope some of the first-time conference attenders really takes up his advice on how to deal with PFAQ – People Frequently Asking Questions!*

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The Wood-Gush Memorial Lecture (the invited lecture of the event, to be given by a prominent contributor to knowledge in applied ethology without actually being an applied ethnologist) this year was given by Stevan Harnad, Professor of cognitive science at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). He addressed “the other mind problem”, the challenge of how we understand what other beings experience. Much of the talk recapitulate what Harnad wrote in his inaugural editorial of the journal Animal Sentience, He also reminded us of Marian Stamp Dawkins very influential paper in another journal edited by Harnad, Behavioral and Brain Science. And, well, if you want the best critical analysis of how to deal with the welfare of other minds, Marian Dawkins is still the author to turn to.

The Wood-Gush lecture was followed by parallel sessions and I chose to stay for the session on Cognition and Emotions. Caroline Lee started with a longer talk On Cognitive evaluation of predictability and controllability and implications for animal welfare. She introduced a framework for welfare assessment based on the concept of predictability/controllability as stress modulators and of positive and negative affect.

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Proposing  to use this framework to evaluate the possible welfare impact of new technologies, in her talk she applied it on the case study of virtual fences for cattle  bringing in actual data from studies of how cattle react to the fence. This work is forthcoming in Frontiers in Veterinary Sciences.

This longer talk was followed by three shorter.  Under the title Understanding the bidirectional relationship of emotional and cognitive systems to measure affective state in the animal, Sebastian McBride discussed the cognitive bias test and possible complementing approaches. His underlying argument is that there is a potential bias in how chronically stressed animals perform in the test, since long term stress exposure can change both action and attention, both crucial factors for test performance. Two talks reporting experimental studies using behaviour and attention in sheep followed, by Matteo Chincarini and Camille Raoult.

* I do remember how these people confused and fascinated me when I was a first time conference participant. And yes, PFAQ seems to be a trait; to the extent that the same people participate they continuou to Frequently Ask Questions. Myself included.

Working on the visuals

António Sá is one of the most talented photographers of animals and people in Portugal. He is also a lovely person and a great teacher whom I have had the privilege to learn from in one of his inspiring workshops. So I didn’t think twice about where the visuals of Animalogues would come from. Right as I type, I’m experimenting with different layouts and different photos. I think I’ve settled for the layout Twenty Seventeen as it makes the photo really stand out while at the same time presenting the text well. Now to select from the dozen splendid photographs suggested to me!

Coming soon

Animalogues is a science communication blog about the behaviour and welfare of domestic animals. It is managed by Anna Olsson, senior researcher in the field at the University of Porto. The blog will be launched in the end of June 2018.

Animalogues is a word play alluding to the ambition of the site – a place for scientifically informed dialogues about animal issues. It is the international cousin of Animalogos, a Portuguese-language blog on the same topic.