During the seminar, participants outlined their
research results and identified EU requirements for future research.
Consumer concerns about animal welfare
recently completed project examined consumer concern for animal
welfare. Researchers found that consumers are concerned about the
issue, although not as a priority. In the consumer's mind, high
standards of animal welfare are associated with food quality and
safety, which are seen as of high importance. It also emerged that
consumers lack knowledge on production systems and, while wanting
more information on animal welfare, tend to voluntarily ignore the
realities of production and slaughter. Consumers expressed a willingness
to pay more for improved animal welfare, although in reality this
is rarely put into practice. Value-for-money determines consumer
choice much more than concern for animal welfare.
Animal-friendly alternatives, organic farming
An important recommendation of an EC-funded project
examining the many facets of livestock
breeding and reproduction was to explore animal-friendly breeding
alternatives in order to assess their economic and societal impact.
Although organic farming is not an animal welfare scheme in itself,
consumers tend to believe that it is more natural and, hence, better
for animals. Is this true, however? Researchers discovered that
farming allows animals to more easily express natural behaviour,
provides more freedom of movement and a better physical environment.
There is a need, however, to define when organic and welfare objectives
conflict. There was little evidence that animals on organic farms
were healthier than those on conventional ones.
Genetic and environmental factors
Scientists from the UK, the
Netherlands, Germany and Denmark spent three years investigating
disorders in poultry. The results showed that osteoporosis in
laying hens is heritable. The research team was able to select lines
with stronger bones and a much lower frequency of bone fractures
without diminishing egg production.
A project focusing on aggressive
feather pecking in chickens discovered that this behaviour also
has a genetic component. Feather pecking occurs when chickens peck
and pull at the feathers of other birds. It can be a particular
problem in production systems that are replacing the battery cage.
Feather pecking can damage plumage, cause injury to the birds, result
in a higher feed intake, and sometimes leads to cannibalism. Researchers
discovered a cheap, low-tech environmental solution to this problem
in the form of a plain polypropylene string. This simple solution
can reduce the incidence of feather pecking drastically by encouraging
preening behaviour aimed at the string rather than other birds.
Embryo technologies, such
as specialised methods of in vitro fertilisation and cloning,
may become precious tools for genetic improvement, but the resulting
embryos often develop abnormally. A two-and-a-half-year EC-funded
research project which aims to identify genes
that are under- or overexpressed in cultured embryos, may have
implications for human health in addition to shedding light on the
causes of these anomalies in livestock.
Food, handling, transport
How do farmers' attitudes
and behaviour affect animal welfare? Researchers from the Netherlands,
Italy, France, the UK and Finland found that when farmers develop
gentle contact with veal
calves, the animals show less stress during transport, fewer
problems at slaughter and produce higher quality meat. Another research
team is using a combined laboratory and field approach to analyse
transport affects cattle, with a view to minimising transport-induced
stress. As well as the impact of facilities and journey time, this
project is showing how important human factors (handling of the
animals, driving of the vehicles) are on the welfare of the animals.