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Animal Welfare & BLV

Bovine leukemia virus has been referred to in the popular press as “cattle AIDS”48. Public perception of the welfare of BLV infected cows could damage the dairy industry if consumers were led to believe that infected cows die slow painful deaths, likening these cows to the early AIDS patients of the 1980s. The life of a food animal should be comfortable, healthy, and free of pain until they are humanely stunned and slaughtered for human consumption. The finding that BLV-infected cows are immune suppressed and have decreased longevity supports the theory that BLV-infected cattle may slowly debilitate with a multitude of opportunistic infections and production problems6; however, cattle may be culled or euthanized before this becomes a major welfare concern. While further research is needed to determine the true impact of BLV on cattle welfare, at some point, foreign and domestic consumers of US dairy products may demand products produced by cattle without BLV, regardless of whether there is scientifically-based evidence that BLV is an animal welfare issue. Public perception can be fickle, and can be exploited to scare consumers and damage the sustainability of the U.S. dairy industry in a global market where many other nations have made BLV control a priority.