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Success story: Improved strategies in animal welfare for improved food quality

Food quality and safety have been issues of major public concern in Europe since the BSE (or mad cow) disease crisis in 1996. However, the food on their plate is not the only thing that worries Europeans. Citizens want to know about the conditions in which animals are kept and, in particular, their well-being. The Welfare Quality ® (WQ) project promotes the integration of farm animal welfare in the food quality chain: from public concern to improved welfare and transparent quality. The project aims to accommodate societal concerns and market demands, to develop reliable animal welfare monitoring systems, product information systems, and practical species-specific strategies to improve animal welfare.

A welfare monitoring system based on scientific knowledge is a very important objective of the Welfare Quality ® project. This will contribute to the development of European standards for on-farm animal welfare assessment.

The project’s biologists and social scientists have already agreed on a common approach and have drawn up a list of welfare criteria and concerns to address four principal categories:

  • Good feeding (no hunger, no thirst)
  • Good housing (comfort around resting, thermal comfort, ease of movement,)
  • Good health (absence of injuries, absence of disease, absence of pain from management procedures).
  • Appropriate behaviour (expression of social and other behaviours, good human-animal relationship, absence of general fear)

These areas of concern were checked with the investigated concerns of consumers in several European countries. Encouragingly, there was considerable agreement between the lists of concerns and welfare criteria identified by scientists and by the general public.

A monitoring system based on the animals themselves

The measures developed by the WQ researchers are based on the animal themselves, considered as the best indicators of their well-being. Most of these measures have now been tested for validity, reliability and practicality.

Cows - © ASG-Wur Pigs - © ASG-Wur
Images © ASG-Wur

The prototype monitoring system is about to be tested on numerous farms. The best measures will then be selected and aggregated into workable monitoring systems for cattle, pigs and poultry. Not only will these systems yield a welfare value (e.g. excellent, average, poor) for each farm tested but they will also provide feedback to the farmer and others to help improve animal welfare on the farm, during transport and at the slaughterhouse. The next stage will be to make this information available to the consumer, while shopping for food, in a form that is easy to understand. Although nothing has been decided yet, this could be in a form of a system of stars or colours.

Stakeholder Conference

The Welfare Quality® project will host the second Stakeholder conference 3-4 May 2007 in Berlin, Germany. The primary goals of this conference are to facilitate a dialogue about the Welfare Quality results with all relevant stakeholders and to identify mutually beneficial activities. More detailed information and registration for the conference:
www.welfarequality.net/everyone/36059

Welfare Quality ® project FOOD-CT-2004-506508
Integration of animal welfare in the food quality chain: from public concern to improved welfare and transparent quality.

Project coordinator:
Prof. Dr Harry J. Blokhuis
Address:
Animal Sciences Group
Wageningen University and Research Centre
Edelhertweg 15
8200 AB Lelystad, Netherlands
E-mail: harry.blokhuis@wur.nl
Phone: +31-320-238195
Fax: +31-320-238094
Website: www.welfarequality.net

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