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Animal Welfare, the issues and facts

Anaïs, what are we actually talking about when we talk about animal welfare?

Animal welfare (AW) is an idea that was originally posited based on a human and anthropomorphist frame of reference, which really began to emerge in the 1960s. But the history of the relationship between man and animal is very ancient and dates back to the time of the first humans. In the Ancient World, the philosophers Aristotle and Plutarch, among others, examined the question of intelligence and sensitivity in animals. It must be understood that the idea of AW is a complex one because it calls upon a great many disciplines: ethics and philosophy, zootechnics, understanding the behaviour of animals, etc. before we even consider the emotional and affective dimensions. It has been prey to numerous controversies and can offer neither truth nor any one single solution!

At the present time, internationally speaking, to define the perimeter of animal welfare, we generally refer to the definition given by the OIE (the World Organisation for Animal Health), which is based on the five freedoms put forward by an independent advisory body set up by the British government: the Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC):

  • Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition.
  • Freedom from fear and distress.
  • Freedom from discomfort (physical and heat stress).
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease.
  • Freedom to express normal species behaviour.

In France, we have several laws that govern our obligations in respect of animal protection in the Rural, Civil and Penal Codes. 

The 1976 law in the Rural Code stipulates that animals must be kept under conditions compatible with their biological imperatives, that it is forbidden to inflict bad treatment upon them and that it is forbidden to exploit animals in an abusive fashion. In 2015, this law was harmonised and article L214 was added to it, specifying that “animals are living beings endowed with sensitivity” and no longer considered as chattels. The CNRS defines sensitivity as: “a being which can experience feelings and impressions”. 

The word “sensitive” is tantamount to denying the animal the ability to have mental processes. It represents a significant difference between the countries in the southern part of the EU - which include France, Italy and Spain - and the countries in the northern part of the EU! Indeed, in Norway and the United Kingdom, they prefer the word “sentient”, which lowers the barrier to some extent between man and animal, considering that the animal has feelings and can adapt to its environment. A “sentient” being is “a being that has the ability to assess the actions of others in relation to itself or that of others, to memorise certain of their actions and consequences, to assess risk, to have positive or negative emotions and to have a certain degree of awareness”.

At the present time, the themes covered by R&D on the subject deal with the subjectiveness and awareness of animals and, in particular, the strategies that animals may adopt. We can therefore reasonably assume that this definition of animal welfare and our practices will be likely to develop further in the future in light of the results of this research!

 

Why are we talking about it more and more these days?

It’s a conjunction of several factors: 

  • Since the 1980s, consumers have easier access to information. The media have developed and, since the 2000s and the advent of social media, everything has been going faster and every individual is his or her own source of information!
  • The production sector has experienced a number crises (BSE, foot and mouth disease, swine fever, etc.), which have received excessive coverage in the media and have damaged the image of livestock farming and the consumer’s trust in livestock production.
  • Animal rights movements have developed, some of them abolitionist, and stepped up their militant campaigns targeting the general public.
  • Texts for laws and new regulations originating from European directives have also been adopted.
 

At your level, how can you take action?

People don’t always make the direct connection between AW and nutrition, mistakenly in my view!

Animal nutrition is crucial. It’s top of list of the five freedoms. The optimisation of nutritional input is essential for AW.

Nutrition can also effect the other criteria in the five freedoms: heat stress; disease prevention, limit oxidative stress, limit inflammation, etc.

The way in which nutritional specialities are designed may also play a decisive role in animal behaviour. Deltavit, a subsidiary of CCPA and an expert in devising future solutions for livestock farming specialities, has thus developed the Delta® Pickbloc cube for poultry, for instance.

For all programmes and solutions developed, it is possible to measure the positive effects of nutrition on animals and their behaviour.

 

How do we measure animal behaviour?

We can fit them with sensors, such as accelerometer collars, which determine a cow’s use of time (time spent lying down, moving, etc.). A cow in good health is actually supposed to lie down 12 hours a day. An animal that does not lie down enough may be showing signs of a malaise or discomfort, may be suffering from lameness, is in danger of less effective mammary irrigation, an impairment in rumination… We also use cameras in the livestock buildings to detect any abnormal behaviour in the animals.

There are also AW assessment scales, like Welfare Quality, an audit reference scale which provides an overview of the herd. This scale provides various indicators that make it possible to identify areas where improvements can be made on the livestock farm.

In R&D, we are making a particular study of physiological blood markers and inflammatory markers (haptoglobin, AAS, etc.). We also use non-invasive methods, like testing on saliva (cortisol), urine, faeces, etc.

 

In your view, what will the livestock farm of the future be like?

A number of stakeholders are asking themselves that very same question! Initiatives are being taken that bring together stakeholders from different sectors to brainstorm on new livestock farming models that reconcile society’s expectations and economic contingencies.

I think that’s the future: sitting around the table and coming up with a common solution to move forward effectively. We are all concerned and it is in all our interests to work together in a coordinated way. The ideal livestock farm would be a livestock farm which is neutral or even positive in terms of the environment and which has adapted its practices to comply with the demands of AW while guaranteeing economic activity with quality production.

Unfortunately, “animal welfare” today is almost a cliché, seen as a fashionable concept, whereas it is much denser and more complicated than it may seem. It is important that we grasp the deeper meaning of the idea. Whenever we work with animals, we should always spare a thought for their welfare!

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