UNDERSTANDING what constitutes well-being and then ensuring it can be properly measured are the keys to driving improvements in the well-being of farm livestock, according to an international group of experts who met in Australia last week.
More than 100 welfare specialists from ten countries participated in the Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-Being, which was held in Australia for the first time.
Each year the forum, convened by animal health company, Boehringer Ingelheim, brings together veterinarians, producers, industry advocates and retailers to discuss latest insights, challenges and opportunities to improve the lives of billions of animals that supply meat, eggs and dairy products.
The focus of this year’s event was the intersection between animal well-being and international trade. The discussion centred not only on how to recognise and measure well-being, but how this relates to introducing standards in a global market where appetite and capacity for change is highly variable.
Andrew Palmer, Boehringer Ingelheim’s Australia country manager, told delegates that animal well-being enriches human well-being.
“This forum is about creating connections, stimulating discussions, and reflecting on the role that all stakeholders can play in improving animal well-being,” he said.
Speakers talked about the challenge of understanding animal well-being from the animal’s perspective, and recognising the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Through this understanding, practitioners can then develop measures which bring objectivity to what can be an otherwise emotionally-charged discussion.
This includes developing a holistic approach that allows industry to assess whole-of-life well-being, rather than simple ‘point-in-time’ well-being. As one speaker noted, “small moments of pleasure do not equal welfare, and small moments of pain do not equal suffering.”
Current research indicates that the way an animal responds to stimuli from human interaction to transport can vary depending on its prior experiences, so a wider lens can give a better view of well-being.
The forum heard about a range of ways to assess well-being, including a move from resource-based measures like mortality or mastitis rates to animal-based measures that look at behaviour and response.
There was also considerable discussion around the administration of analgesics during painful procedures. There was broad consensus that the cost of administering pain relief may not always be returned in production gains, although there were measurable benefits around how quickly the animal returns to feed or demonstrates normal behaviours.
There is considerable data showing that consumers say they will pay more if animals are afforded a higher level of well-being, but purchase data does not fully reflect this yet.
A key outcome of the forum was that right across the supply chain, there is a genuine will to improve well-being. There are both push and pull effects at play, with consumers contributing to demand for change in some markets, while countries with more advanced well-being practices are helping to filter down change in other markets.
One of the speakers, Dr Teresa Collins, a senior lecturer in animal welfare and ethics at Murdoch University in Perth, said industry “absolutely wants to get on-board with animal well-being.”
“We need measures that improve transparency, promote evidence-based decisions, and can be taken quickly by a stockperson caring for animals. They also need to integrate with existing reporting requirements and need to work in very different environments,” Dr Collins said.
The Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-Being was held in Australia from 30 May to 2 June. For more information about the forum and past events, click here.
Source: Boehringer Ingelheim