Animal Welfare Expert: Welfare Cannot Be Assessed Through Checking Walls
May 12, 2020 by Vladislava Gospodinova
Resource and management indicators could be used to identify risk factors, but welfare cannot be assessed through checking walls or floors, says Antoni Dalmau, an animal welfare researcher from Institute of Agrifood Research and Technology (IRTA) in Spain. He spent the last 15 years studying the complexity of one of the long-standing issues in farming – how to ensure a quality life for farmed animals. “Animal welfare is a condition of the individual animal, and animal welfare science is more and more about the assessment of the animal’s own experience. Only animal-based indicators can give you an idea about that.’’ The physical and emotional health of an animal as well as its behaviour, known as animal welfare, is at the centre of a long-lasting discussion between policymakers, scientists, and farmers. In recent years, it has also become part of the broader debate about sustainability practices in farming. But before anything else, animal welfare is a question of science. In order to evaluate the wellbeing of farmed animal species, scientists rely on animal-based indicators. They examine the physical and emotional state, the behaviour and even the appearance of an animal to determine the quality of life on the farm. But the process is not straightforward. To get a detailed picture, researchers take into account the so-called resource-based and management-based indicators which measure the environment where animals are bred. According to Mr Dalmau, although they provide important additional information, they cannot be given the same weight the measures which look directly into the animal. “You cannot assess what you are not observing. You are not assessing welfare if you are not using animal-based measures. If you are observing walls, you are assessing walls.” Creating an assessment based on the housing systems, for example, could give simplified and even misleading results, which do to reflect truly animal’s state of wellbeing. According to him, many people prefer these indicators because they are easier to communicate and understand. “NGOs are used to work with resource and management-based parameters because they are easy to apply and to communicate to their funding bodies and society - I don’t allow cages; I don’t allow tail docking; I don’t allow castration; I ask for free-range. This is easy to assess and to communicate.’ Narrowing it down the assessment method jeopardises the scientific objectivity, adds Mr Dalmau. “For most of the people, this means, better. But not for the animals. For them, easier, faster and cheaper is not better. For them, what is better is that their interests and states are taken into account.” According to him, this is also the reason why it is difficult to create one single animal welfare law across Europe. EU policymakers spent the last decade looking into ways to how to create a common framework for animal welfare legislation. Currently, there are not harmonised rules across the continent, and animal welfare is regulated by EU directives while rules in member states vary. More than a decade ago, the European Commission launched the Welfare Quality project in an effort to understand how animal welfare could be quantified. The research project endorsed the animal-based indicators and prompted the creation of protocols for cattle, pigs and poultry. Later, it also laid the groundwork for industry-led, voluntary certification programmes such as WelFur and WELFAIR™ - a livestock farms and slaughterhouses certification programme in Spain covering different animals. The European Union Reference Center for the Welfare for poultry and other small farmed animals is the latest initiative to collect and compare animal welfare data, and possibly help policymakers to create common legislation. According to Mr Dalmau, many expect science to provide a clear and simple, black or white answer about animal welfare, whereas the issue is much more complicated. ‘’Welfare is not present or absent, black or white; it is continuous improvement, and for this reason a good scientific validating and a realistic plan are important.’’ Current animal welfare programmes have been time-consuming and expensive to create. They required scientific knowledge, validating the science, training assessors and carrying out the large-scale inspections. But they also proved it is possible to evaluate and quantify animal welfare through science – knowledge which one day could be useful when the time for common animal welfare law comes.
Other Stories In This Issue
Farm to Fork Strategy: Opportunity for Animal Welfare
May 12, 2020 by Mick Madsen
"It’s going to be a strong proposal," said the Vice-President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans on 22 April in the European Parliament regarding the upcoming 'Farm to Fork Strategy' (F2F), one of the cornerstones of the Green Deal, the EU’s flagship environmental policy. Twice delayed, the F2F Strategy is expected to be released in May. Although not directly involved in food production, Fur Europe looks forward to the publication of the Strategy as it should trigger evaluation and possible revision of the EU animal welfare legislation, according to a version of the draft Strategy leaked in March. Indeed, Fur Europe – which represents the European fur value chain - regards the F2F Strategy as an opportunity to develop coherent and future-proof animal welfare policies in the agri-business. The last available version of the draft leaked on 6th of March is promising "the Commission will evaluate the existing EU legislation with the view to revising it”. Since long before the arrival of the new Commission and the communication around the Green Deal and the F2F Strategy, Fur Europe has been advocating the adoption of a new EU Animal Welfare Strategy, including an animal welfare framework law covering all farmed animals (food and non-food producing animals) at all life stages, to update and replace current legislation. In the context of a future review of the EU legislation on animal welfare, Fur Europe points out that decision-making related to animal welfare should be based on peer-reviewed scientific evidence and facts from the field in order to provide legal protection for high animal welfare standards essential for sustainable animal farming systems. Priority should be given to the development of animal welfare indicators. The particularity of animal-based indicators is that they measure several aspects directly on individual animals. Since the launch of the animal welfare programme Welfur in 2009, the European fur industry has worked with animal indicators as the modern, professional way to monitor different aspects of animal welfare (housing, feeding, health, behaviour). Welfur is based on the principles of the European Commission-funded Welfare Quality® project and has been developed by independent scientists from seven European universities. European fur farms under the WelFur scheme are certified by independent assessors. Fur farms are assessed with 20 different measurements chosen for their reliability and scientific validity. The certification requires three farm assessments, while the maintenance of the WelFur certificate requires one assessment per year. Fur farmers who do not score high enough do not obtain the WelFur certificate. Without the certificate, fur farmers cannot sell their furs via international fur auction houses. So far, 21 fur farms in Europe, less than 1 per cent of assessed farms, have failed to obtain a WelFur certificate. All fur producing countries or regions have a so-called Welfur advisor available for them. These advisors are veterinarians who help fur farmers analyse the WelFur data to improve animal welfare systematically. Likewise, Welfur is part of the self-regulations recognised by the European Commission. Such a recognition implies that the system has been scrutinised for its validity and credibility and therefore qualifies for legal implementation. The EURCAW-Small Animals (or the European Union Reference Center for the Welfare for poultry and other small farmed animals) – which has started operating in 2020, will have the responsibility to introduce animal indicators. Indeed, the comparison of Welfur results from different countries could be helpful for the centre, which is competent for the welfare of fur animals, although its primary focus should be on poultry welfare until 2022. In parallel to EURCAW-Small Animals, Welfur would bring a significant contribution to the work of the EU Platform on Animal Welfare, whose role is to promote an enhanced dialogue on animal welfare issues, which are relevant at EU level among competent authorities, businesses, civil society and scientists. The representation of the fur industry in the Platform should thus be ensured, or at least ad hoc invitations should be guaranteed to interested stakeholders. The F2F Strategy will aim to develop a baseline and indicators on key animal welfare provisions, and the Welfur method offers a good example of an animal welfare programme. Definitely, Welfur and the future revision of the EU animal welfare legislation triggered by the F2F Strategy will be in the coming month major topics of discussion within the Sustainable Fur Forum, the informal platform of discussion in the European Parliament that offers high-level expertise and scientific knowledge on fur related topics to MEPs.
Fur Europe issues guidelines as mink test positive for COVID-19
Apr 26, 2020 by Mick Madsen
Three mink on a Dutch mink farm have tested positive for COVID-19, and a second Dutch farm is assumed to be infected with COVID-19 as well. Dutch authorities said COVID-19 most likely have been transmitted from farm employees to animals. One employee has been tested positive, while others have shown symptoms of COVID-19. 'Dutch authorities also stressed that transmission risk from animals to humans is considered negligible. 'Human to human' remains the driving for the spread of COVID-19. The Dutch authorities are now taking blood samples from animals on the farms in question in order to test for anti-bodies and measure the spread of the virus within the farms in question. The information gathered can also be important for human epidemiological knowledge. Fur Europe has immediately issued advice and guidelines to members in all mink producing countries. Update: Following the first findings, mink on four farms, all in the same area, have tested positive for COVID-19. The number of diseased animals remain very low: "Only a few mink showed symptoms of the disease on the farms. The mink are kept in separate pens, which means that there is little to no contact between the animals. It appears to be an acute outbreak, where the farms quickly overcome the peak of the disease. The chance that mink will function as a reservoir of the virus appears to be small," Dutch experts from Waagenen University explain in a Q&A.
EURCAW-Small Animals is open: WelFur to play a role
Apr 28, 2020 by Mick Madsen
The EURCAW-Small Animals - or the European Union Reference Center for the Welfare for poultry and other small farmed animals - started operating in 2020. Europe’s other small farmed animals are all the fur farmed species, so the centre will have direct impact on European fur farming. EURCAW-Small Animals’ main objective is to provide support to the European Commission and Member States in the official implementation and control of animal welfare regulations. Introducing animal indicators are amongst the responsibilities of the centre, in addition to collection of comparable data on the welfare of animals across Europe for the European Commission. It goes without saying WelFur works along these lines already. Much attention will however be directed to poultry in the first two years of the centre’s existence. "The centre’s main task is to support the national welfare bodies in the Member States and the Commission with officials controls on the welfare and compliance with legal standards. I imagine comparison of WelFur results from different countries would be interesting in the context of the centre," Henrik Steen Møller, Aarhus University said. EURCAW-Small Animals is a consortium formed by the Institute of AgriFood Research (IRTA), the Agence Nationale de Sécurité Sanitaire de l’Alimentation-ANSES (France), the Aarhus Universitet-Institut for Husdyrvidenskab (Denmark), and the Istituto Zooprofilattico Sperimentale della Lombardia e dell’Emilia Romagna (Italy).
Fur pelt prices are about to go up again
Apr 23, 2020 by Mick Madsen
Following a price bubble in the period 2010-2013, fur pelt prices have been dropping significantly with a subsequent decrease in world production. The same market development has been observed before and history suggests pelt prices are about to go up again soon, according to Senior Advisor at University of Copenhagen's Department of Food and Resource Economics, Henning Otte Hansen. He has earlier written a book about the Danish mink production and the underlying economic structures of the global fur trade. Now he has examined price- and production statistics for natural fur pelts from 1950 to 2019. "The price increases are about to come. It’s only a matter of the time perspective,” he said, explaining mink pelts are price elastic products, a characteristic achieved because by a market without the market regulations are known from other agricultural products, where prices do not vary much over time. The price-setting on the market for natural fur pelts is truly expressing supply and demand, although it takes a few years for the supply to adjust to demand when prices first begin to drop. “You can tell from the statistics that price and supply are closely associated. When the supply - the global production of pelts - have been decreasing for a while, the prices begin to go up. If prices go up the supply goes up as well. When the supply again exceeds the demand, the pelt prices drop, and rather quickly and dramatically too.” This pattern happened from around 2000 when prices were at the bottom, and towards 2013, when prices again reached a peak. “When the price was at the top in 1987, it took about 8 years before it began to increase dramatically again. If the same pattern repeats this time, prices will begin to increase again in 2021 latest,” he said. The effects of the COVID-19 may, however, impact the curve. “If the corona-crisis develops into economic crisis and recession the demand for fur will drop. As the demand for fur products is relatively dependent on income, a poor economy can impact the demand considerably,” Henning Otte Hansen said, but pointed out the negative fluctuation in pelt price that followed the global financial crisis in 2009, was short and the upward price curve for that period continued shortly after. Another possibility is that economic effects from the corona-crisis extend the period before prices go up again. The global mink production has now dropped to about 45 million pelts, down from all-time high 87 million in 2014. This is approximately the same as world production in 2007.