Animal-based measures to assess the welfare of dairy cows and pigs are effective and should be used wherever possible, according to recent scientific advice from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Recommendations of EFSA’s Panel on Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) are presented alongside a ‘toolbox’ from which scientists, veterinarians and farmers can select the appropriate animal-based measures for carrying out a welfare assessment of dairy cows or pigs. The two opinions on dairy cows and pigs are the first in a series of work on animal-based measures that will ultimately cover all farm species. The opinions support the implementation of the recently adopted EU Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-2015.
The use of animal-based measures to assess animal welfare is relatively new. Legislation related to the protection of animals usually focuses on the assessment of different factors that can impact on welfare rather than on the animal’s response to these factors. Such factors may include both the resources available to the animal in its environment, for example space or bedding material, or the practices used to manage the animal on the farm, such as how and when the farmer feeds the animal or the procedures in place for weaning. For example, current EU rules require that air circulation, dust levels, temperature and humidity in buildings that house farm animals must be kept within certain limits but they do not require measurements to be taken of the animal’s response to these factors.
The AHAW Panel’s latest scientific advice looks at the effectiveness of assessing the responses of the animal to factors in its environment as an alternative or sometimes complementary approach to assessing the factors themselves. The rationale for this approach is that animal-based measures aim to directly determine the actual welfare status of the animal and therefore include both the effect of the environment as well as how the animal is managed.
The Panel concludes that animal-based measures can be effectively used to evaluate the welfare of pigs and dairy cows on farms. The two opinions also lay out a ‘toolbox’ approach, giving scientists, veterinarians and farmers a list of animal-based measures from which to tailor their own welfare assessment. The Panel stresses that measures should be chosen according to the specific objectives of the assessment, for example to support farmer management decisions or to assist relevant authorities in enforcing legislation.
The AHAW Panel also notes that non-animal-based measures should continue to be used when it is clear that they will prevent animal welfare issues, for example the presence of sharp objects or protrusions in animal housing.
EFSA developed its latest advice following a request from the European Commission (EC) for an independent, scientific view on animal-based welfare measures for farm animals. The advice is designed to complement the work of the EC in this area and comes soon after the launch of the new EU’s Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-2015. EFSA will present its recent work on animal welfare risk assessment at an international conference in Brussels (29 February - 1 March 2012) organised by the EC and the EU Danish presidency, entitled: “Implementing animal welfare through the new EU strategy: consumer empowerment and market opportunities”.
In the case of dairy cows, examples of animal-based measures considered to address the largest number of poor welfare issues are: lameness, leg injuries, mastitis, colliding with equipment when getting up and lying down and poor body condition. For pigs, the measures are related to health (sneezing, coughing, mortality, etc.), social behaviour and poor body condition.