Scientific Opinion on the use of animal-based measures to assess welfare of broilers
Animal-based measures (ABM) can be used effectively in the on-farm evaluation of broiler welfare in relation to laws, codes of practice, quality assurance schemes, management and also partly for ante-mortem inspection. Some ABM can also be taken post-mortem at the slaughterhouse. Non-animal-based measures can be used when the association between them and the welfare outcome is strong and when they are more efficient than ABM as a means to safeguard welfare. They can also be useful predictors of welfare in broilers. The choice of animal-based measures will depend upon the specific objectives of the assessment. The full list is comparable to a ‘toolbox’, from which the appropriate set of measures can be selected. The Welfare Quality® protocol provides information on the majority of the welfare outcomes for the main factors identified in the EFSA Scientific Opinions but not those where time limitation prevents it. There is a lack of research on the use of ABM on-farm and in the slaughterhouse to assess pain, frustration, boredom and other negative or positive emotional states in the standard broiler. There are limited management options to prevent poor welfare when the flock is still in the house e.g. to improve the ventilation system. The same applies to negative consequences arising from genetic selection. There is a need for more systematic flock monitoring and surveillance programmes in the broiler industry. Visual inspection has a very high potential to improve animal welfare in broiler production when a range of appropriate ABM is used in the slaughterhouse. Benchmarking can be used to document welfare changes over time, including automatic monitoring and assessment systems. Attention should also be paid to initial and ongoing training of assessors in the field and in the abattoir to ensure valid and robust measurements.