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Animal Welfare - Recent Reports and Comments

Animal Welfare vol 21 issue 2 Volume 21
Issue 2
May 2012

New interactive website on common marmosets

A new open-access internet resource providing information on common marmoset (Callithrix jacchus) behaviour and promoting their welfare in captivity has recently been developed. This website is intended for use by a broad audience, including private owners, educators, academic researchers, zoo, laboratory and veterinary professionals. Designed to be welcoming and fun to use, as well as instructive, the site is interactive and illustrated extensively with photographs and over 120 video clips.

The common marmoset is the most-used New World primate in laboratory research and testing worldwide and is also probably the primate that is most frequently kept by private owners. Although the website conveys relevant advice about these animals, the private ownership of marmosets is strongly and persuasively discouraged (a footnote on the first page reads: “Disclaimer: Marmosets should not be kept as pets, given the difficulties of providing for their complex social and physical needs. Their use in laboratory research and testing is controversial and the ethical framework of the 3Rs — Replacement, Reduction and Refinement — must be applied if they are used”). Being able to understand and assess the welfare state of marmosets in captive contexts is essential for ethical reasons, and in laboratory research and testing is important for the quality of scientific output, and to assess the efficacy of planned Refinements to housing, husbandry and procedures (the 3Rs of Replacement, Reduction and Refinement being the principles underpinning humane research).

The three main divisions of the website aim, respectively, to promote: (i) an understanding of the range of behaviour in this species; (ii) placing this behaviour in the context of its natural habitat; and (iii) promoting good welfare in captive environments. Topics covered in the ‘care in captivity’ section include grouping and breeding, feeding, health, interaction with human caregivers, positive reinforcement training and the vital importance of conspecific companionship. An interactive section demonstrates the features of good housing for common marmosets. Videos illustrate practical examples of cognitive, sensory, food and social enrichment and highlight the welfare benefit of encouraging natural behaviour. In a second section, video footage and a photo gallery show the daily experience of marmosets living ‘in the wild’. The third section presents a novel modern, multimedia update of the ‘ethogram’; a detailed online database of much of the behavioural repertoire of this species covering calls, behaviours, postures, facial expressions, sensory capabilities and developmental stages. Videos and images supplement and clearly illustrate the text descriptions. Welfare interpretation is also communicated and an interactive quiz invites visitors to test their knowledge.

This website is hosted by the University of Stirling, UK, and the project was funded by the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (http://www.nc3rs.org/), and the Primate Society of Great Britain’s Captive Care Working Party. It does not cover veterinary aspects but is an interesting and valuable resource on the biology and care of these animals. 

Common Marmoset Care (2011). Website created by CFI Watson and HM Buchanan-Smith and developed by Richard Assar. Available at http://marmosetcare.com/.

BVA AWF publishes tail-docking guidelines for veterinarians

Docking involves removal of part, or all, of an animal’s tail and historically the docking of dogs’ tails in England became popular when a tax on non-working dogs was introduced in 1796. Working dogs were exempt from taxation therefore their tails were docked to show their working status. The tax on non-working dogs was later repealed but tail docking continued over the years for various reasons, including: aesthetics, to reduce tail injury, and to increase hygiene.

On the 6th April 2007, tail docking in England became illegal under Section 6 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England). However, particular working breeds of dog (hunt, spaniel and terrier) are exempt from the tail-docking ban providing certain conditions are satisfied. Tail docking must be carried out by a veterinary surgeon when a dog is no more than five-days old and the puppy must be presented with the dam (to prove breed). A statement must also be made to prove that the dog is intended to work in one of the specified areas, as described in The Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations 2007 (eg pest control, emergency rescue, armed forces, police). Similar legislation has also been passed in Wales and Northern Ireland (with some variation in the detail of exemption) and in Scotland (where there is a total tail-dock ban and no exemption).

The official stance of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (the regulatory body of veterinary surgeons in the UK), is that tail docking is an unjustifiable mutilation and unethical unless carried out for therapeutic or acceptable prophylactic reasons.

Tail docking of dogs can be a tricky topic for veterinary surgeons to manage with their clients and it can also be confusing given the slight differences in legislation throughout the UK. In an attempt to make the issues surrounding tail docking clearer, the British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (BVA AWF) has produced a guidance leaflet entitled: The Practical and Legal Approach to the Docked Puppy. The BVA AWF is an animal welfare charity which aims to improve animal welfare through applying the “knowledge, skill and compassion of veterinary surgeons in an effective way”.

The guidance leaflet informs veterinarians, using a question/answer format and an easy flow chart, of their options if they are presented with a puppy that has been illegally docked and also about what to check for if a client brings in a docked puppy that meets the criteria for exemption. Suggestions are also given about sources of further information and there is a brief round-up of the relevant legislation in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Although tail docking of working dogs meeting the criteria is permissible, some veterinarians are not comfortable with carrying out the procedure and the guidance leaflet advises veterinarians that “regardless of new laws you are NOT obliged to dock exempt dogs. This remains at your discretion as a veterinary surgeon”.

The BVA AWF guidance will provide a useful starting point for veterinarians when confronted with the issue of tail docking in dogs.

BVA Animal Welfare Foundation Guidelines: The Practical and Legal Approach to the Docked Puppy (November 2011). A4, 7 pages. Guidance leaflet produced by the British Veterinary Association Animal Welfare Foundation (BVA AWF). Available at the following BVA AWF webpage: http://www.bva-awf.org.uk/about/BVA_AWF_Tail_docking_guidance_Nov2011.pdf.

E Carter,

The use of animal-based measures to assess the welfare of pigs and dairy cattle

Following a request by the European Commission, the Animal Health and Welfare (AHAW) Panel of the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) has recently investigated the use of animal-based measures to assess the welfare of pigs and dairy cattle, the findings of which were published in January in the form of two Scientific Opinions. The EFSA AHAW Panel provides independent, scientific advice on all aspects of animal health and welfare (predominantly farm animals) to the European Commission, the European Parliament, and Member States. Its Scientific Opinions focus on helping risk managers identify methods to reduce unnecessary animal pain, distress and suffering and to increase animal welfare where possible. The advice given by EFSA is frequently used to support policy decision-making, such as adopting or amending European legislation.

The EFSA AHAW Panel considers animal welfare to encompass both the physical health and emotional state of an animal and it states that animal-based measures are increasingly being used to assess an animal’s welfare rather than resource (environment) or practice (management) measures. Animal-based measures seek to evaluate the welfare status of an animal directly and to encompass any impact that environmental and management factors may have.

On reviewing previous EFSA Scientific Reports (that consider pig and dairy cattle welfare), and the EU-funded project, Welfare Quality® (which published protocols for assessing the welfare of pigs, and dairy cattle using predominantly animal-based measures in 2009), the Panel considered that animal-based measures can be used effectively to evaluate the welfare of pigs and dairy cows and, where possible, these should be used in preference to resource or practice measurements. The majority of animal-based observations and measures are made on a sample of individual animals and these results may then be interpreted at the farm or group level. It is suggested that non-animal-based measures may be used when the association between them and a welfare outcome is strong and when they are more efficient to use than animal-based measures.

Certain animal-based measures were identified by EFSA as addressing the largest number of poor welfare outcomes as identified by EFSA’s previous recommendations and hazards. In pigs, these measures were: health (sneezing, coughing, scouring, mortality); behaviour (both positive social behaviour and negative, eg tail-biting); and general appearance (wounds on the body and body condition score). In dairy cattle, the following animal-based measures were found to be important: lameness; hock, knee and skin lesions and swelling; colliding with equipment when standing or lying; teat injuries; evidence of mastitis; and body condition score.

A large part of both Opinions is taken up with a multitude of tables that list the welfare recommendations from previous EFSA Scientific Opinions along with suitable animal-based and non-animal-based measures. The lists put forward are extensive and the Panel note that it is not necessary to measure all things on all occasions. It is intended that the lists are thought of more as a 'tool-box' of possible measures and the selection of measures chosen will depend on the welfare outcome to be assessed and the reason for wanting to assess them, eg whether as part of a management/breeding programme or to comply with legislation.

In both Opinions, it is stated that although a number of animal-based measures are fully developed, eg stereoptypies in sows, and gait scoring in dairy cattle, they are not always widely used in commercial practice and, conversely, some animal-based measures are in regular use, eg somatic cell counts in dairy cattle, but they are not fully utilised as an indicator of animal welfare. It is recommended that automatic data recording systems for animal-based measures are further developed and more widely implemented. Additionally, herd monitoring and surveillance programmes should be employed within both the pig and dairy industries using a range of suitable ‘benchmark’ animal-based measures to show changes in welfare over time.

It is expected that, following suitable training, the measures put forward may be used by a farmer, veterinarian or inspector when evaluating animal welfare on-farm, and also at the slaughterhouse for ante and post mortem checks. It is hoped that the Scientific Opinions on pigs and dairy cattle are the first in a series and, in time, that all farm species will be covered. The Opinions support the implementation of the recently adopted European Union Animal Welfare Strategy 2012-2015.

Scientific Opinion on the Use of Animal-Based Measures to Assess Welfare of Dairy Cows (2012). A4, 81 pages. EFSA Panel on Animal Health and Welfare. EFSA Journal (2012): 10(1): 2554. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2554. Available online at: www.efsa.europa.eu/efsajournal.

Scientific Opinion on the Use of Animal-Based Measures to Assess Welfare in Pigs (2012). A4, 85 pages. EFSA Panel on Animal Health and Welfare. EFSA Journal (2012) 10(1): 2512. doi: 10.2903/j.efsa.2012.2512. Available online at: www.efsa.europa.eu/efsajournal.

E Carter,

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee publishes two reports to inform government within the United Kingdom

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) is an expert committee within the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) whose remit is to provide independent advice on the welfare of farmed animals to governments within England, Wales and Scotland. In December 2011, the FAWC published two reports.

Education, Communication and Knowledge Application in Relation to Farm Animal Welfare

A key message within the FAWC’s Education, Communication and Knowledge report is that educating society about farm animal welfare issues should begin in school. According to FAWC, approximately 95% of five to 16 year-olds are in full-time education on any given school day and it suggests that primary and secondary education could play a fundamental role in engaging children on the importance on animal welfare. FAWC notes that there are a range of subjects in which animal welfare elements could be incorporated, including biology, geography, citizenship, and design and technology. Children are receptive to different aspects of animal welfare at different ages therefore this should be taken into account when considering lesson plans: the younger years (three to six year-olds) are open to learning biology; seven to 12 year-olds are interested in learning about animals in general; and 13 to 16 year-olds are more responsive to ethical and moral dilemmas of animal use. The report states that currently very little animal welfare is taught in schools and, where the subject is touched upon, this is often undertaken using materials lacking in quality control and by teachers who themselves often have only a limited understanding of animal welfare science.

FAWC makes four recommendations to governments with regards to animal welfare in education including: “Any government revisions of the national curricula in England, Scotland and Wales, need to ensure that school pupils, in an age-appropriate manner, learn about where our food comes from and about how farm animals are — and should be — treated. Educational initiatives should, at a minimum, address the basic legal obligations for farm and companion animals, such as the duty of care and the requirement to provide an animal’s five freedoms”. The need for primary and secondary teachers to be provided with continuing professional development to enable them to teach animal welfare is also recommended, along with the benefits of encouraging and facilitating commercial farm visits by schoolchildren.

The report then goes on to discuss how best to communicate with adult consumers on farm animal welfare and a variety of means through which this can be achieved are put forward, such as: product information and labelling at the point of sale; corporate social responsibility statements; and public information campaigns. FAWC considers that: “The consumer should be able to compare meat and other animal products in terms of welfare provenance either at the product, the brand or the retailer level”. Although various farm assurance schemes and supermarket-own brand ‘higher welfare’ products are currently in circulation, FAWC notes that there is a lack of information and comparability between products and retailers and that this can hinder shoppers when attempting to make more ethical purchasing decisions: “Consumers may be confused by the different standards used, different units of measurement, means of welfare assessment employed, assessment times in the animal’s lifecycle and distance from mandatory welfare requirements that limit their ability to compare products, ranges and brands directly and thus ultimately frustrate choice”.

Nine recommendations are made on how government may improve the communication on farm animal welfare to wider society, including the need to “align higher welfare claims to a common and identifiable set of defined welfare objectives and outcomes against which welfare claims can be compared directly by interested consumers”. Another key recommendation suggests that: “Where marketing claims are used that imply that animals enjoy higher welfare standards, this should be demonstrated by whole life welfare advantages over and above current minimum legislative compliance”.

Finally, the report considers knowledge generation, transfer and application. This section begins by accepting that there is frequently a gap between the generation of knowledge and its application and that in farm animal welfare “the pace and uptake of change is often slow, despite the demonstrable benefits of such changes to the animals concerned”. FAWC highlights the need to better understand how those responsible for the care of animals respond to the expanding amount of research available on agricultural and animal welfare knowledge transfer.

A key route through which farmers receive information on farm animal welfare is through advisory and extension services. FAWC emphasises the importance of these services, such as those provided by EBLEX, BPEX and Dairy Co (the levy bodies for beef and sheep, pigs, and dairy cows, respectively), which include: farm-specific advice on animal health and welfare; training schemes; and forums for sharing ideas, learning and networking. A number of other strategies are also put forward by FAWC on how to engage with farmers and facilitate improvements in farm animal welfare, including: participatory learning, social marketing, benchmarking, open and demonstration farms, and continuing professional development.

Education, Communication and Knowledge Application in Relation to Farm Animal Welfare (December 2011). A4, 36 pages. Farm Animal Welfare Committee. Available for download from the FAWC website: www.defra.gov.uk/fawc or by contacting the FAWC at the following address: Area 8B, 9 Millbank, c/o Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR, UK

Economics and Farm Animal Welfare

Economics is a complex discipline which is, in essence, about how best to assign resources to satisfy human wants. The report begins by explaining how animal welfare does not fit directly into an economic framework but is considered to be an ‘externality’. Within economics animals may be considered a resource which, following production (eg farming), result in an output that people want (eg food). However, along with producing the desired output, the production process may also result in a by-product(s), eg quality of life for farm animals. If the quality of life of farm animals were poor then this would be considered a negative externality due to the negative impact that this would have on people in society who are concerned about animal welfare. Conversely, if the quality of life of farm animals is high, then animal welfare may also be considered to be a positive externality. Negative externalities are unwanted by-products which may raise concerns in consumers thereby affecting the market success of a product. Environmental pollution is given as an example of a negative externality of industrial production.

The report then considers the role that farmers and their decision-making has on animal welfare. FAWC notes that most farmers are not simply profit maximisers and that a whole range of drivers are involved in any decision-making process, including a concern for animal welfare. FAWC recommends that “Research should be carried out to provide a better understanding of the financial and other drivers for farmers to safeguard and improve animal welfare” and also that “It is likely that the most effective means to protect and improve farm animal welfare that is linked to farm profitability is to provide some form of incentive payments to farmers to do this; these should be paid according to the delivery of welfare outcomes”.

The relationship between animal welfare and animal productivity is then explored. Some improvements in animal welfare will also result in an improvement in productivity, and thus profitability for the farm. However, this is not always the case and FAWC considers that where measures to improve animal welfare impose a net cost on the farmer, then other forms of incentive may be required to promote their adoption. This leads onto the next section which considers the relationship between animal welfare and economics in the marketing chain. A number of studies have indicated that some consumers are willing to pay a higher price premium for products from farming systems which deliver higher animal welfare (although this is not always found to be the case at the point of purchase). The role of retailers, the media and the imbalance of power between primary producers and retailers is also discussed.

FAWC goes on to describe how animal welfare could be classed as a ‘public good’. Public goods are those which have a positive benefit on society as a whole, or a subset of it. They often do not have their own inherent market value therefore it is not cost effective for a market to allocate resources to them; other means of ensuring public goods are valued are therefore utilised, such as government intervention. If animal welfare were considered to be a public good then government could seek to protect animal welfare through regulation, financial incentives, and provision of appropriate information. As part of its recommendations in this area, FAWC urges government, “to continue to assess the need for new legislation, rather than relying on market mechanisms to satisfy its objective of improved standards of farm animal welfare”.

The impact of globalisation on animal welfare is also taken into consideration within the report. FAWC notes that decisions taken within one country cannot be wholly independent of those taken in others due to international trade and other trans-national issues, such as disease control, disaster management and climate change. In particular, when legislation is updated, this can have major cost implications for farmers, especially changes which involve alterations to animal housing. FAWC stresses that increased regulations should not put farms and other business in Great Britain out of business since this is likely to lead to an increase in imports and an export of any welfare problem. Other countries do not necessarily have lower animal welfare standards than the UK, but where this is the case, imports from these countries cannot be prevented from entering the UK on animal welfare grounds due to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. FAWC discusses the complexities of this situation and also talks about global animal welfare standards of intergovernmental organisations, such World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the possibilities of EU-wide welfare labelling.

The final parts of the report reflect on where financial pressures have brought the livestock industry and then close with how economic mechanisms may be utilised to improve animal welfare in the future. One idea put forward is to use the current Government Environmental Stewardship Scheme as a template for a ‘Welfare Stewardship Scheme’ — which would provide farmers with a financial incentive when measurable improvements in welfare outcomes are achieved.

Economics and Farm Animal Welfare (December 2011). A4, 49 pages. Farm Animal Welfare Committee. Available for download from the FAWC website: www.defra.gov.uk/fawc or by contacting the FAWC at the following address: Area 8B, 9 Millbank, c/o Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JR, UK

E Carter,

OIE seminar for national focal points for animal welfare, Tokyo, 2011

The World Organisation for Animal Health (the OIE) has a programme of capacity building for OIE Delegates and National OIE Focal Points. Focal Points are people designated by the Delegate to support compliance with national obligations and to support the Delegate in animal disease notification, wildlife, aquatic animals, veterinary products, animal production and food safety, animal welfare and communication.

Within this framework, a second Regional Seminar for OIE National Focal Points for Animal Welfare was held in Japan on 30 November–2 December 2011, for the Asian, Far East and Oceania region. It aimed to provide participants with information on the OIE, its international standards on animal welfare and the role of focal points, an update on the OIE’s animal welfare work programme, and an appreciation of the links between animal welfare, society and trade. It was also to give an opportunity for animal welfare Focal Points to share experiences and establish networks within the region, particularly to support implementation of the Regional Animal Welfare Strategy (see http://www.daff.gov.au/animal-plant-health/welfare/regional_animal_welfare_strategy_for_asia,_the_far_east_and_oceania). 

Small working groups were tasked with considering strategies for implementing OIE standards consistent with the Regional Animal Welfare Strategy. Discussions addressed the following questions and were written up as reports (copies attached):

  • How to improve knowledge and capabilities of Veterinary Services, including the role of OIE Collaborating Centres;
  • How to improve awareness and knowledge of livestock carers and handlers; and
  • How to facilitate the development/improvement of animal welfare legislation.

OIE seminar for national focal points for animal welfare (2011). For online access to the presentation slides, the programme and photos, see http://www.oie-jp.org/representation/programmes/programme_i/201111_Animal%20Welfare%20FP%20Tokyo.html

K Littin,
MAF, New Zealand

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