Since 1963, the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) has exhibited at the annual meeting of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) 21 times, providing information on the humane treatment of animals. In December 2004, AWI submitted an application for exhibit space at the AVMA's July 2005 convention. More than five months later, on June 10, 2005, we received a rejection letter—nine days after the Association announced a new policy addressing "contentious exhibitors that may be detrimental to the attendee experience." The policy permits the exclusion of exhibitors with "messages espousing philosophies or practices contrary to policies and position statements of the AVMA."
True, the Institute supports an end to horse slaughter for human consumption—which, by the way, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted in favor of recently. The AVMA, on the other hand, continues to oppose this humane legislation. However, the impetus behind the Association's refusal to allow AWI to exhibit at this year's convention is undoubtedly based on our exhibit at the 2004 convention, which was described by an AVMA representative as "very contentious."
Our exhibit, which focused on the housing of sows, displayed a life-sized cloth pig in a real gestation crate. Approximately 70 percent of pregnant sows are confined to gestation crates for the duration of each of their nearly 4-month long pregnancies. We sought to inform veterinarians about the sow gestation crate, as well as alternatives that provide sufficient space and permit sows to engage in key natural behaviors, such as grazing, rooting and socializing. We even had a farmer, one of hundreds whom we work with, discuss in detail the practicality and improved welfare of alternative systems. A slew of conference attendees engaged in thoughtful discussion with us and said they appreciated our presence.
At present, the AVMA is reconsidering its policy endorsing use of the gestation crate. Clearly, by keeping AWI from displaying the crate at this year's convention, the Association plans to maintain its support for this cramped, barren stall. Just as it eventually withdrew its endorsement of the barbaric steel-jaw leghold trap, we trust the AVMA will someday also retract support for the gestation crate in honor of animal welfare.