According to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), animal welfare relates to how an animal is coping with the conditions in which it lives. An animal in a good state of welfare is healthy, comfortable, well nourished, safe, able to express innate behavior, and is not suffering from unpleasant states such as pain, fear, and distress. Good animal welfare requires animal care, disease prevention and veterinary treatment, appropriate shelter, management and nutrition, humane handling and humane slaughter for consumption or killing for the purpose of disease control, as per Principles 2 and 5.
Poor welfare in livestock, in working animals and food-producing animals, can cause suffering, and impact their ability to provide expected services or products. Improvements in animal welfare have the potential to reduce stress-induced immunosuppression, reduce incidence of disease on farms (de Pastille and Rushen, 2005), reduce shedding of human pathogens by farm animals, and reduce antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. Well cared for animals are productive animals; similarly, improving animal welfare enhances health, sustainability and production, opening up new trade opportunities for farmers and other actors along the value chain.
Animal welfare is linked to the wellbeing of the farmer (FCN, 2016; FAWC, 2016); this is partly related to increased productivity associated with welfare-friendly systems. Superior meat yields are achieved when pre-slaughter stress and trauma is minimized and increased milk yield in relation to the absence of claw problems are a few examples of this link (Pinillos et al., 2016). In addition to quantity, quality can also be improved by welfare. Pre-slaughter stress, for instance, will increase acidity of meat, which decreases quality (Dokmanovíc et al., 2014). A potential consequence is lower profit due to a lower selling price in relation to decreased quality. Stress and poor welfare can also influence the release and virulence of some zoonotic diseases through the excretion of specific pathogens, causing a higher risk of disease transmission to humans (Pinillos et al., 2016), as covered in Principle 5.
Projects should ensure that animal welfare is integrated into, and contributes to, their existing programs in areas such as animal health and nutrition, livestock development, sustainable livelihoods, and emergency responses where animals are involved (FAO, 2008).
Points of Consideration
Good animal welfare practices have shown to significantly reduce stress (Grandin, 1987) and improve yield (Hemsworth et al., 2000) but the welfare and health of animals also reflects the wellbeing of humans. For example, the abuse of or violence against animals has been linked to family and social violence (Ascione and Shapiro, 2009). Multiple studies show that training in animal-friendly handling can support a decrease in violent and aggressive behavior towards the animals. It is likely that the abuse of vulnerable animals could be reduced and prevented by improving animal welfare among abusers (Pinillos et al., 2016).
Likewise, there is evidence that a farmer’s intention to treat animals humanely is significantly positively correlated with psychological and social factors (FAWC, 2016). Signs of poor welfare could therefore be indicators for detecting poor farmer wellbeing and vice-versa (Pinillos et al., 2016).
The links between human wellbeing, the environment and animal welfare are captured in the concept of One Welfare. The integration of this concept into livestock investment decisions could not only improve human and animal welfare, but also support food security and safety, improve productivity within the farming sector, benefit environmentally friendly animal keeping systems and increase resilience and security for communities in low- and middle-income countries. These initiatives to improve animal welfare are multifaceted international and domestic public policy issues that must take account of not only scientific, ethical and economic issues, but also religious, cultural and international trade policy considerations (Bayvel and Cross, 2010).
Communities that care for their animals, not only secure availability of animal-derived products, but they also tend to work on sustainable farming with care for the environment. The protection of soil, safeguarding of water, supporting biodiversity, introducing local food sourcing, establishing local carbon-neutral energy schemes and housing and creating community initiatives around sustainability partnerships are examples (O’Riordan, 2004).
In emergencies or crisis situations, animal welfare might be relegated or particularly neglected as it is not understood as an immediate priority.
Approaches and Tools:
Although animal welfare problems are extremely diverse, several problem areas stand out as high priority across many regions and production systems. These areas are on-farm, during transportation, and at slaughter (including pre-slaughter management). On-farm issues particularly, include food and water intake, handling/herding methods, culling and disposition of animals that are sick or of low commercial value, and the keeping of animals under conditions to which they are not genetically suited. These problem areas provide logical starting points for capacity building efforts for implementing good animal welfare practices, which involves the following elements:
✓ Enable policy and regulations for increasing animal welfare
✓ Education to create awareness of animal welfare and an understanding of its significance for successful animal production
✓ Engagement to foster active involvement of people who work with animals
✓ Training in specific procedures
✓ Communication among different stakeholders
The OIE has published several standards on animal welfare that can be used as a basis to develop relevant indicators. Welfare indicators can be conveniently divided into indirect or “resource-based” and direct or “animal-based” indicators. The indirect group of indicators analyzes the causes that could affect animal welfare, while the direct indicators analyze the effects.
It is commonly accepted that a robust assessment of animal welfare is achieved when direct and indirect parameters are combined (Sorensen et at, 2001). Recent animal welfare evaluation criteria also take into account the biosafety factor (Bertochi and Fusi, 2014).
Many countries are showing increased interest in creating and/or revising animal welfare legislation, in some cases to comply with international standards as well as private standards. The OIE PVS Pathway provides such assessment and should be included in projects upon countries’ request.
One way to improve the welfare of animals is to use the Five Freedoms as benchmark for meeting animals’ needs. These cover:
✓ The need for a suitable environment to ensure freedom from discomfort: including appropriate access to shelter, temperature, humidity, and a comfortable resting area;
✓ The need for a suitable diet to ensure freedom from hunger and thirst: including easy access to fresh water and a nutritionally balanced diet to support health;
✓ The need and the freedom to exhibit normal behavior patterns: including sufficient space, facilities, and appropriate housing with, or apart from, other animals;
✓ The need for protection and for freedom from fear and distress: including during farming, transport and slaughter;
✓ The need for protection and for freedom from injury and disease: including access to veterinary care for prompt prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease or injury.
Variables to Consider
✓ Size and design of the enclosures where animals are kept
✓ Water provision or environmental enrichment
✓ Quality of forage and silage
✓ Percentage of forage in the overall diet
“Animal-based” indicators fall into three main categories: behavior, physiology, and health. Some examples of measurable of such parameters are:
✓ Levels of hormones related to stress, fear and abnormal behavior
✓ Specific signs of diseases or morbidity (e.g. footpad dermatitis, lameness)
✓ Body index
As previously stated, welfare includes the physical and emotional health and also the behavior of the animals, and there is no single indicator that can provide enough information to thoroughly assess animal welfare. For this reason, animal welfare can only be properly assessed using a combination of several indicators (Salas and Manteca, 2016).
To meet growing consumer needs, voluntary certifications have been introduced both in the environmental (Castoldi et at, 2010) and animal welfare sectors. Market mechanisms, legal restrictions, and economic incentives therefore play a pivotal role in influencing producers to adopt sustainable production methods.
A legislative approach, for example, will only be effective if sufficient resources are devoted to its administration and enforcement. Analysis is needed to determine what programs would be most effective in promoting good animal welfare practices and how implementation of such programs could benefit animals and people.
Animal welfare assessment should be done with the full participation of all relevant actors, in a process that also attempts to understand the perceptions and traditional practices of participants, and the social and material assets that they can bring to bear in solving animal welfare problems (FAO, 2008).