Opinion of the Scientific Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) on a request from the Commission related with the risks of poor welfare in intensive calf farming systems


Panel on Animal Health and Welfare
Panel members at the time of adoption
Bo Algers, Harry J. Blokhuis, Donald M. Broom, Ilaria Capua, Stefano Cinotti, Michael Gunn, Jörg Hartung, Per Have, Xavier Manteca Vilanova, David B. Morton, Michel Pépin, Dirk U. Pfeiffer, Ronald J. Roberts, José Manuel Sánchez Vizcaino, Alejandro Schudel, J. Michael Sharp, Georgios Theodoropoulos, Philippe Vannier, Marina Verga, Martin Wierup, Marion Wooldridge.
Opinion of the Scientific Committee/Scientific Panel
Question Number
24 May 2006
6 June 2006
Last Updated
6 June 2006. This version replaces the previous one/s.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Parma, Italy
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EFSA has been requested by the European Commission to issue a scientific opinion on animal health and welfare aspects of intensive calf farming systems and their ability to comply with the requirements of the well-being of calves from the pathological, zootechnical, physiological and behavioural points of view.

In particular the Commission asked EFSA to update the findings of the Scientific Veterinary Committee (Animal Welfare Section) report on the welfare of calves of 9 November 1995 in light of more recent data on this issue. Where relevant the possible food safety implications of different farming systems should also be considered.

In this report a risk assessment was made and the relevant conclusions and recommendations are forming the scientific opinion by the AHAW Panel.

The SVC (1995) report contains information on measurements of welfare, needs of calves, descriptions of current housing systems, chapters on types of feed and feeding systems, weaning of calves, housing and pen design, climate, man-animal relationships, dehorning and castration. Further chapters covered economical considerations of systems and for improving welfare. In the report conclusions were made on general management, housing, food and water and economics.

The present report “The risks of poor welfare in intensive calf farming systems” is an update o the previous SVC report with the exception of economical aspects which are outside of the mandate for this report.

The various factors potentially affecting calves' health and welfare, already extensively listed in the 1995 report of the Scientific Veterinary Committee Animal Welfare section (SVC, 1995), are updated and subsequently systematically determined whether they constitute a potential hazard or risk. To the latter end their severity and likelihood of occurrence in animal (sub) populations were evaluated and associated risks to calf welfare estimated, hence providing the basis for risk managers to decide which measures could be contemplated to reduce or eliminate such risks. In line with the terms of reference the working group restricted itself to (in essence a qualitative) risk assessment

Although it is agreed that welfare and health of calves can be substantially affected in the course of and as a result of transport and slaughter, this report does not consider animal health and welfare aspects of calves during transport and slaughter but such information can be found in a recently issued comprehensive report of the Scientific Committee on Animal Health and Animal Welfare (SCAHAW), on “The welfare of animals during transport (details for horses, pigs, sheep and cattle)” which was adopted on 11 March 2002 (DG SANCO, 2002) and in the EFSA report “Welfare aspects of animal stunning and killing methods” (EFSA, 2004b).

In relation with the food safety aspects, main foodborne hazards associated with calf farming are Salmonella spp., human pathogenic-verotoxigenic Escherichia coli (HP-VTEC), thermophilic Campylobacter spp., Mycobacterium bovis, Taenia saginata cysticercus and Cryptosporidium parvum/Giardia duodenalis. Present knowledge and published data are insufficient to produce a universal risk assessment enabling quantitative food safety categorization/ranking of different types of calf farming systems. Nevertheless, the main risk factors contributing to increased prevalence/levels of the above foodborne pathogens, as well as generic principles for the risk reductions are known. The latter are based on the implementation of effective farm management (e.g. QA, husbandry, herd health plans, biosecurity) and hygiene measures (e.g. GFP-GHP).

In general, the conclusions made in the previous SVC report remain. However, recent research has provided for some additional conclusions.

The risk analysis is presented in the Tables of Annex 2. The Graphics in this table are not intented to represent numerical relationships but rather qualitative relations. In some instances the exposure could not be estimated due to lack of data, in which cases the risks where labelled “exposure data not available”.

The following major and minor risks for poor animal health and welfare have been identified for one or several of the various husbandry systems considered:

Major risks

Inadequate colostrum intake – duration,

Inadequate ventilation, inappropriate airflow, airspeed, temperature for some husbandry systems

Exposure to pathogens causing respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders

Continuous restocking (No “all in – all out”)

Mixing calves from different sources

Minor risks

Inadequate colostrum intake – quantity

Inadequate colostrum intake – quality

Insufficient access to water

Insufficiently balanced solid food

High humidity

Indoor draughts

Inadequate ventilation, inappropriate airflow, airspeed temperature for some husbandry sytems

Poor air quality (ammonia, bioaerosols and dust)

Poor floor conditions; gaps too large, too slippery, wet floor for lying, no bedding

Insufficient light for response to visual stimuli

Exposure to pathogens causing respiratory and gastrointestinal disorders

Poor response of farmer to health problems, especially necessary dietary changes

Lack of maternal care

Separation from the dam

For the following hazards there are not enough data available to assess the risks (labelled as “exposure data not available”):

Iron deficiency resulting in Haemoglobin levels below 4.5 mmol/l.

Allergenic proteins

Too rich diet (overfeeding)

Insufficient floor space allowance

Inadequate health monitoring

Inadequate haemoglobulin monitoring

The hazards of iron deficiency and insufficient floor space are considered to be very serious, the hazard of inadequate health monitoring is considered to be serious and the hazards of exposure to inadequate hemoglobin monitoring, allergenic proteins and too rich diet are considered to be moderately serious. For these hazards, there is no consensus on the exposure of calves mainly due to lack of data and that is why it is recommended that further studies should be made to provide evidence for an exposure assessment.

Regarding castration and dehorning (and disbudding) without anaesthetic drugs, there is a variation in relation to national legislation why the risk of poor welfare in relation to castration and dehorning has a wide range between countries.

calves welfare, calves health, intensive farming, risk assessment, veal meat,behavioural needs, food safety
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