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Animal Welfare - Recent Reports and Comments

Animal Welfare vol 24 issue 1 Volume 29 
Issue 4
November 2020




Overview on fish welfare indicators and their use for best management practices for salmon farming

Fish welfare is a growing area of concern and activity as evidenced by the fact that 180 million salmonoids (salmon and trout) eggs are produced each year in the UK alone, making it the largest livestock sector in that country after broiler production. It is predicted by 2030 over 60% of global demand for fish for human consumption will come from farmed stock.

This Report looks at farmed fish welfare and, using salmon farming as its model, looks to review current welfare practices within the finfish industry. By focusing on the indicators used to assess the welfare of farmed salmon it also looks to identify which might be relevant to other farmed fish species — in particular, catfish and tilapia, and to inform discussion of how enhanced welfare practices could be adopted.

The Report consists of ten sections, that variously address what is meant by welfare, list existing sources of guidance and standards on finfish welfare, the stressors that lead to poor welfare, finfish health and biosecurity and welfare indicators. It also explores current certification schemes and the welfare indicators used in some common salmon certification schemes and the criteria for incorporating such into any scheme. Finally, it lists recommended welfare measures that can be incorporated and audited.

The Report starts by acknowledging that the concept of welfare in fish and whether they can feel pain (and experience pleasure) is the subject of some debate and takes the position that fish are sentient animals and do — a view reflected in current EU legislation. As such, the authors argue we should look to minimise[HG1] [SW2]  any procedure that can potentially cause distress.

They also explain what the term welfare means to them, adopting Marian Dawkins’ [HG3] definition of welfare in the Report, ie that ‘good’ welfare is when an animal is healthy and has what it wants. They argue that this definition encompasses the different approaches which emphasise a functional, a feelings and/or a nature-based view of welfare. They also highlight their belief that the concept of allostasis (stability through change) is important when considering welfare indicators as it is the capacity of fish to respond to changes.

The Report then details the different life stages of farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) and the farming events each stage experiences and the various risk factors/stressors they are exposed to and a short overview of each, eg stocking density, feed, water flow, water quality, handling and crowding, transport, vaccination and grading, social stress, predator control, parasites and disease (including sea lice) and humane slaughter.

Section 6 addresses welfare indicators considered essential in the development of best management practices to monitor and maintain health and welfare in the salmon industry. The welfare indicators considered most important are mortalities, condition and growth rate, fin damage, physiological parameters, such as hepatosomatic index and behaviour — including the spatial distribution of the fish in their tanks/pen. The Report includes several tables listing indicators that can be used to monitor the welfare of individual fish and those in groups, indicators for different stressors[HG4]  over the different life stages of Atlantic salmon and the accepted parameter levels for different life stages and events, eg oxygen saturation levels, water pH, etc. The section finishes by looking at the research undertaken on the major stressors and welfare indicators identified for salmon.

The Report then explores what lesson[HG5] s can be learnt from salmon for other species like tilapia and catfish. Based on a search of existing literature they found research into the welfare of these latter species is less established than for salmon and that there is an almost total lack of recognised welfare indicators for them. Areas of research still to be developed within the tilapia and catfish industry include water quality control, harmonisation of grading and handling protocols, staff training and professional development, transport and slaughter. Other areas of welfare concern are the relatively limited level of nutrition development in the context of rapid intensification of the farming of both species, live transport and the use of ice stunning. Effective measures to mitigate stress caused by crowding and handling are also needed.

Biosecurity is another issue for farming tilapia and catfish, as a significant proportion of the industry is based on ‘open’ systems, ie nets and cages in rivers and lakes; making escape into the wider environment more likely. It also makes management of parasites and pathogens problematic.

The literature search also identified issues that have still to be effectively addressed in salmon, including control of parasites, bacterial and viral infections, handling and vaccination, transport and stunning and management of predators, and control and mitigation measures for extreme environmental events, such as storms and temperature change caused by global warming.

The Report concludes with the hope that development of new technologies will drive change and improvements and allow Precision Fish Farming (PFF) to become more widespread. In such systems, the authors envisage that sonar and sensor systems would be used to control feed and manage waste. Real-time monitoring of fish behaviour through the use of sonar systems and cameras could also become a reality, along with real-time monitoring of environmental parameters to ensure fish welfare.

Farmed Fish Welfare Practices: Salmon Farming as a Case Study (2019). A4, 56 pages. Authors: Rey S, Little DC and Ellis MA. Published by Global Aquaculture Alliance publications and available online at https://www.aquaculturealliance.org/blog/animal-welfare-salmon-study/.

SM Wickens,


Report on the provision of small red meat abattoirs

The number of abattoirs in the UK has fallen considerably since the mid-twentieth century. In the 1930s it is reported that there were 30,000 working abattoirs in the UK, but in 2020 that figure has dropped to 250. The closure of these premises has occurred at a time when the UK population, and thus our demand for meat, has increased substantially. The impact of these closures has been felt by numerous groups and the environment. To varying degrees, farmers, consumers and the animals entering the food chain have all been affected by the changes in slaughter practices over the past 90 years.

In June 2020, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APPGAW) published its Report entitled, ‘The Future for Small Abattoirs in the UK: A Report on An Enquiry into Small Red Meat Abattoir Provision.’ Although agriculture is a devolved matter, the Report covers the situation in England, Scotland and Wales. The work was prompted by concerns raised regarding the decline of abattoirs, particularly those operating on a small scale. The authors note that when assessing the situation, it is important to be mindful of the wider circumstances. The future of British agriculture is being reshaped as the country faces political challenges (eg Brexit), environmental issues and the shift in the public’s perception of animal-based products. It is stated within the Report that this is an ‘ideal time’ to examine the status of small abattoirs and their contribution to the agricultural industry within the UK. An introductory chapter gives the reader relevant background to the situation and describes the geographical distribution of red meat abattoirs in the UK, how they fit with the transport networks, and summarises the current slaughter business models.

In the Report, the authors raise and address four key questions:

• What evidence is there that the closure of many small-scale abattoirs has a negative impact on animal welfare and the rural economy?

• Why have abattoirs closed and what impact have regulation and wider policy matters had on the decline of abattoirs?

• Is there a need for a network of small-scale abattoirs, do they provide a different business model and, if so, how can they be viable and sustainable?

• What is the role of Government in shaping the end of life process?

To address these questions, pertinent information is presented in the Report’s three main chapters. Within these chapters, data are reported along with stakeholder views and case studies, reminding us of the reality of the situation. As well as raising views and concerns, solutions and recommendations are also provided in the relevant sections of the Report.

The chapter entitled ‘Small abattoirs and animal welfare’ addresses welfare during transport, the welfare of animals in abattoirs, the role of Animal Welfare Officers (AWOs), illegal slaughter, emergency slaughter on-farm and the slaughter of equids. The following chapter, ‘Small abattoirs, the rural economy and wider food, farming and environmental strategies’ tackles the financial importance of local abattoirs on the local economy, the need for specialist equipment when handling and slaughtering some native and rare breeds of livestock, and the potential environmental benefits local abattoirs can offer. The chapter, ‘Challengers for small abattoirs: issues involved with closures and possible solutions’ puts forward business strategy, economics and the challenges faced by smaller businesses when regulations demand the procurement of expensive equipment and highly qualified staff.

Although the welfare of animals in low-throughput abattoirs is not necessarily higher than those in high-throughput plants, the authors of the Report believed the availability of small-scale abattoirs in the UK offers additional advantages relating to animal welfare; for example, they may prevent illegal slaughter, cope with the specific physical demands of some native breeds or less commonly slaughtered species, and they may be more able to meet the needs of farmers who are required to perform emergency slaughter.

Additionally, in the Report, farmers raised their concerns that a lack of adequate local facilities may lead to livestock travelling longer distances which can be detrimental to animal welfare and meat quality. The authors addressed these concerns and made a number of recommendations including the provision of facilities that enable shorter journey times from point of rearing to slaughter, eg a network of small abattoirs or mobile slaughter units. Other recommendations for improving animal welfare include consideration as to how small abattoirs could be supported to access training and development of skills that enable them to have AWOs and offer a wider range of services, such as rare breed or equine slaughter.

The authors “hope this Report helps in some way to bring Government together with stakeholders to support small abattoirs.” The delivery of this Report is timely. As the world changes around us and we rise to meet the challenges on the horizon, the welfare of food animals must remain a priority. If developing and maintaining a network of small-scale or mobile abattoirs aids us in safeguarding and improving their welfare, it should be supported.

The Future for Small Abattoirs in the UK: A Report on An Enquiry into Small Red Meat Abattoir Provision (June 2020). Report available at https://www.nfu-cymru.org.uk/nfu-cymru/documents/the-future-for-small-abattoirs-2020/.

S Richmond,

Racehorse welfare: A life well lived?

There are approximately 850,000 horses in the United Kingdom (UK) and, in 2019, 23,537 were registered with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) as training for flat racing, jump racing, or both. The BHA regulates and sets minimum welfare standards for racehorses during training and on the race-track. However, there is limited oversight of racehorses at other times, such as breeding, during data and traceability processes, pre-training, and post-racing (including: re-training and re-homing of horses, sales, auctions, import/export and slaughter).

The Horse Welfare Board (HWB) was set up in April 2019 by the industry’s Members’ Committee “in recognition of the need for greater cross-industry alignment and focus on welfare”, and consists of eight members (two each of: independent members, BHA members, horsemen, and those involved with racecourses). The HWB was specifically asked to consider the use of the whip in horseracing, and to provide a position statement, and this is included within the final document: ‘A life well lived: A new strategic plan for the welfare of horses bred for racing, 2020-2024.’

As noted by the authors, animal welfare is a sensitive and challenging issue, however, it is unfortunate that the HWB do not define welfare: “The term ‘welfare’ is problematic and means different things to different people, so we have deliberately not provided a precise definition.” The HWB instead focus on “an outcomes-based approach, to provide clarity on our welfare-related priorities.” This sets the theme for how welfare is described throughout the document.

The HWB have a noble vision: “Respect for the horse is at the heart of everything we do: Every horse bred for racing will enjoy a life well lived.” The HWB hopes to achieve this through four main routes:

• Best possible quality of life;

• Collective long-term responsibility;

• Best possible safety; and

• Growth and maintenance of trust.

To facilitate the HWB in achieving the four desired outcomes, two ‘enablers’ are considered key: Data and evidence; and Communication of welfare.

Throughout the strategy there is a focus on how the racing industry is perceived by the general public and politicians and ‘reputational risk.’ For example, a large part of the strategy considers ‘Best possible safety’ and discusses ways of reducing and minimising avoidable injuries and fatalities. It is noted that there is “urgency around this issue. Fatalities are routinely cited by politicians and policymakers as the issue that must remain at the top of racing’s agenda.” The industry has already made concerted efforts to reduce injuries and fatalities through improvements in data gathering, track factors, race factors, jockey training, veterinary care and licensing and the number of racehorse deaths per 1,000 runners has fallen by one-third over the past two decades (in 2019 there were 173 fatalities per 91,937 runners). The industry is committed to continuing to reduce fatalities, although the HWB acknowledge that “risk can never be eliminated entirely.” Additionally, there are arguably more pressing welfare concerns which are not mentioned within the strategy and, although not a recognised priority by the public or politicians, could potentially have more impact on improving individual horse welfare (such as routine performance of Caslick procedures on brood mares, ‘shuttling’ of breeding stallions by air from one hemisphere to another, incorrect training of young horses, stereotypies, or lack of turnout).

Twenty recommendations are put forward to the industry under the following headings: (A) Standards and Benchmarking (Welfare benchmarking; Euthanasia code of practice; Code of ethics; Ground and going improvement and benchmarking; Continued consideration of breeding methods); (B) Safety improvements (Obstacle improvement); (C) Reviews of current policies and practices (Use of the whip consultation in 2020; Stalls and starting assurance review; Lower place prize money review; Improved accountability in non-regulatory sectors; Welfare financing review); (D) Data and risk analysis (Establishment of cross-industry data unit and programme; Traceability; Predictive risk monitoring; Medication data); (E) Training and education (Training and CPD); and (F) Communication, engagement and reputation management (Promotion of welfare and the horse; Issues management; Industry engagement; External stakeholder engagement).

These recommendations are supported by 26 key proposed projects. The projects, as yet, have not been fully costed or scoped — it is expected that progress will be made in these areas once the strategy has been approved at which point “the industry will be asked to develop, resource and take forward.”

The three main pieces of work that the HWB hopes will improve equine quality of life are the Thoroughbred Welfare Study, targeted training and CPD, and greater education of/support for those re-homing racehorses. The ‘Thoroughbred Welfare Study’ would be used to generate a common baseline and standard for all horses by considering a range of welfare and well-being criteria. With regards to whip use, the HWB propose to undertake a consultation on whip use in 2020 and their current position is that: “Racing must signal a proactive, positive direction of travel in relation to the whip, taking steps to eliminate misuse and leading any discussions around the future removal of the whip for encouragement.”

The strategy is very positive in its desire for the whole industry to come together in a more cohesive way: “Racing’s discussions around welfare must be characterised by greater collaboration, confidence and unity. Care and concern for the horse is the thing that most obviously unites us, and which therefore presents an enormous positive opportunity.” The HWB recognise how divisive discussion on welfare can become and encourages the industry to: “recognise positive intent in others. While we may differ in our views on how to get there, we share the same goals. Making progress requires a cultural change and a different tone of engagement.” Noting that the goal is “progress, not perfection” and that “inaction, or endless debate leading to inaction is not an option.”

The HWB intends to review and report on the progress of the strategy on an annual basis. It is acknowledged that the entire strategy may need to be reviewed in the light of new information and may look very different in 2025. The HWB also state: “We are also conscious of the inevitable limitations in the Board’s own expertise”, and therefore suggest that they will be seeking greater collaboration both inside and outside the sport.

A Life Well Lived: A New Strategic Plan for the Welfare of Horses Bred for Racing, 2020-2024 (2020). A4, 130 pages. Report available at: http://media.britishhorseracing.com/bha/Welfare/HWB/WELFARE_STRATEGY.pdf.

E Carter,

ARRIVE 2.0: Updated guidelines to improve the reporting of animal research

The aim of the original ‘Animal research: Reporting in vivo experiments (ARRIVE) guidelines’, published in 2010, was to highlight the minimum information required when describing in vivo experiments. Produced with the support of the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), the guidelines consisted of “a checklist of information to include in publications describing in vivo experiments to enable others to scrutinise the work adequately, evaluate its methodological rigour, and reproduce the methods and results” (Percie du Sert et al 2020a). When a scientific experiment is reproduced and another researcher draws a similar conclusion, then it is more likely that the conclusion is correct — this is important when basing decisions on scientific findings. However, despite widespread endorsement by the scientific community (over 1,000 journals, funders and research institutes support the ARRIVE guidelines), the impact of the 2010 guidelines on the quality of scientific reporting in animal research publications has been limited and the majority of manuscripts continue to lack key information required for reproducibility.

In an effort to facilitate a greater uptake, the guidelines were reviewed and updated through an extensive and collaborative effort of an international working group (composed of funders, journal editors, statisticians and researchers from the UK, mainland Europe, North America and Australia (Percie du Sert et al 2018; Hair et al 2019) and ARRIVE 2.0 was published in July 2020. ARRIVE 2.0 builds upon the original guidelines and is complemented by an ‘Explanation and elaboration’ document which provides: “background and rationale for each of the 21 items of ARRIVE 2.0” (Percie du Sert et al 2020b). To ensure that the guidelines were relevant and accessible, the explanation and elaboration document was road-tested alongside the revised guidelines with researchers preparing manuscripts describing in vivo research.

The checklist for the updated guidelines is organised into two sets: The Essential 10 (which are considered the bare minimum required and without which reviewers and readers cannot completely assess the reliability of the findings), and an additional 11 Recommended Set (which provide context for the study described).

Within the elaboration and explanation document each item listed in the Essential 10 and the Recommended set is described in its own stand-alone section to allow users to access further information quickly and independently. The Item is simply defined, followed by a more extensive explanation, for example, Item 2 considers sample size, and Sub-item 2(b) specifically looks at how a sample size was decided. The explanation describes the pitfalls of both under- and over-powered studies and explains how if a sample size is too small (leading to an under-powered study) then there are three possible consequences: “first, within the experiment, real effects are more likely to be missed; second, when an effect is detected, this will often be an overestimation of the true effect size; and, finally, when low power is combined with publication bias, there is an increase in the false positive rate. In turn, low powered studies can contribute to poor internal validity of research and risk wasting animals used in inconclusive research” (Percie du Sert et al 2020b). It is hoped that by facilitating a greater appreciation of why each item is relevant, then scientists are more likely to report on it.

Additionally, extra, useful material is included in information boxes throughout the document, such as a glossary of common statistical terms in the Introduction, or information on randomisation within Item 4, including simple and block randomisation, other randomisation strategies, nuisance variables, and implications for analysis, reminding the reader that: “blocking uses up degrees of freedom and thus reduces the power if the nuisance variable does not have a substantial impact on variability.”

Where appropriate, the guidelines also draw the readers’ attention to practical resources, such as The Experimental Design Assistant (EDA) in Item 1. Study design (EDA is an online platform that assists researchers when designing in vivo experiments), or a list of online nomenclature resources within Subitem 8(b) of Item 8, Experimental animals, which give detail on how to correctly report nomenclature of commonly used animal species. Again, reminding the reader why such detail is important: “Reporting the correct nomenclature is crucial to understanding the data and ensuring that the research is discoverable and replicable” (Percie du Sert et al 2020b).

Two new items which have been added to ARRIVE 2.0 are Item 19, Protocol registration, and Item 20, Data Access. Protocol registration has become an increasingly important means of improving both transparency of animal research and scientific rigour. Data sharing has also gained increasing recognition and acceptance since the publication of the previous guidelines in 2010. Data sharing is considered useful as it: “allows the data to be repurposed and new datasets to be created by combining data from multiple studies… This allows others to explore new topics and increases the impact of the study, potentially preventing unnecessary use of animals” (Percie du Sert et al 2020b).

The aim is for ARRIVE 2.0 to be applied to all areas of bioscience research that involve living animals across a range of experiments: “Transparent reporting is clearly essential if animal studies are to add to the knowledge base and inform future research, policy, and clinical practice” (Percie du Sert et al 2020a). The revised checklist, along with the explanation and elaboration manuscript, are freely available online and easily navigable on a dedicated ARRIVE website. Other useful resources are also available, including an explanatory webinar. ARRIVE 2.0 is available in English, French and German (Chinese translation in progress).


Hair K, Macleod MR, Sena ES, Collaboration II 2019 A randomised controlled trial of an Intervention to Improve Compliance with the ARRIVE guidelines (IICARus). Research Integrity and Peer Review 4: 12. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41073-019-0069-3

Percie du Sert N, Hurst V, Ahluwalia A, Alam S, Altman DG, Avey MT, Baker M, Browne W, Clark A, Cuthill IC, Dirnagl U, Emerson M, Garner P, Katp NA, MacCallum CJ, Macleod M, Petersen O, Rawle F, Reynolds P, Rooney K, Sena ES, Silberberg SD, Steckler T, Würbel H and Holgate ST 2018 Revision of the ARRIVE guidelines: rationale and scope. BMJ Open Science 2(1): e000002. https://openscience.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000002.   

Percie du Sert N, Hurst V, Ahluwalia A, Alam S, Avey MT, Baker M, Browne WJ, Clark A, Cuthill IC, Dirnagl U, Emerson M, Garner P, Holgate ST, Howells DW, Hirst V, Karp NA, Lazic SE, Lidster K, MacCallum CJ, Macleod M, Pearl EJ, Petersen OH, Rawle F, Reynolds P, Rooney K, Sena ES, Silberberg SD, Steckler T and Würbel H 2020b Reporting animal research: Explanation and elaboration for the ARRIVE guidelines 2.0. PLoS Biology 18(7): e3000411. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000411

Percie du Sert N, Hurst V, Ahluwalia A, Alam S, Avey MT, Baker M, Browne WJ, Clark A, Cuthill IC, Dirnagl U, Emerson M, Garner P, Holgate ST, Howells DW, Karp NA, Lazic SE, Lidster K, MacCallum CJ, Macleod M, Pearl EJ, Petersen OH, Rawle F, Reynolds P, Rooney K, Sena ES, Silberberg SD, Steckler T and Würbel H 2020a The ARRIVE guidelines 2.0: Updated guidelines for reporting animal research. PLoS Biology 18(7): e3000410. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.3000410

New Arrive Guidelines 2.0 (July 2020). Available at: https://arriveguidelines.org/news/new-arrive-guidelines.

E Carter,


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