The fight for sustainable and animal-friendly agriculture is one of the axes of the Slow Meat campaign and is part of the daily work that the Slow Food movement undertakes with producers, consumers, chefs, technicians and institutions.
The welfare of farmed animals is linked to the health of people and the environment: the farm, in its entirety and complexity, is a pivotal element of food production and a positive solution to the challenge facing humanity. faces in terms of climate change, health and biodiversity. .
But are people aware of this? What perception do they have of the complexity and challenges of setting up sustainable agriculture that respects animals?
The Ppillow Project funded by the European Union, aims to build solutions to improve the welfare of animals raised in organic and free-range farming systems with low environmental impact. This project included research on the perception of animal welfare among European consumers and producers.
Two surveys were applied to measure differences in preferences between countries and stakeholder groups, providing information on whether farmers and citizens weighed strategies such as mutilation avoidance, use dual purpose or local breeds, or in ovo sexing and welfare effects.
Farmers and citizens agreed that environmental enrichments (i.e. providing adequate surfaces for space and tools, for the life of the animals themselves) are important levers for improving welfare, and both have preferred their use in low-input production.
The results also suggest that supply-side actors foresee the benefits of well-being, but also see some of the downsides of the improvements offered to them.
However, they also indicate that several adjustments are not applicable despite their advantages. One of the most important reasons for inapplicability seems to be that the financial provisions to adopt a measure are insufficient. This can involve either high costs of implementing a change or low market incentives such as high price or low perceived demand for animal-friendly products. Other barriers to adopting welfare measures include farm-specific factors such as housing limitations. The differences between countries in the preferences of supply-side actors were smaller than the differences between the preferences of citizens in the countries studied.
The supply sector involved indicated a higher relative preference for feed, breeding, shelter from predators, vaccines and antiparasitic treatments, and the provision of enrichment and nesting material to pigs and mutilations in relation to the inclination of the citizens.
In contrast, citizens paid more attention to increasing space allowance, reducing herd size, outdoor access and features, and slow-growing breeds. These can also be seen as “easy to understand” measures, while farmers preferred adjustments partly related to the daily management and care of animals.
Citizens view low-input organic and non-organic production more favorably than conventional domestic production, and they say they are willing to pay a higher price for animal-friendly products.
About a third said they would be willing to pay at least 20% more, while nearly a quarter of citizens would not pay a higher price premium for low-input products. Therefore, there is room for a niche that would pay for premium priced products.
But how can a consumer measure animal welfare?
A significant proportion of citizens do not have a clear vision of the characteristics of the type of production they prefer. This suggests that there is a lack of knowledge among citizens to assess complex production practices. Therefore, there is a need for clear communication between farmers and citizens that conveys consistent messages through trusted information sources.
Probably “ask” is the key word. Every time we shop, our individual choices can have a positive influence on the global food production system. When it comes to meat, we can leave our mark.
To put animal welfare first, it might be worth looking at co-ops and groups of farms that follow strict diets and guidelines in the care of their animals. Each year, the welfare of millions of animals raised for their meat, milk and eggs for human consumption is often seriously compromised, we can combat this situation by choosing animal and planet friendly producers.
Of course, it is not always possible to buy meat directly from the producer, but the butcher can also do his part. Ask him for quality meat and encourage him to source his business from high welfare farms.
Is it possible to measure animal welfare?
Every farmer will ask themselves this question at some point.
“Animal welfare is the result of many interconnected factors – says Anna Zuliani, veterinarian of Vétérinaires sans frontières – Italy and Slow Food collaborator on animal welfare projects and initiatives. – such as housing practices and management Animals react and adapt differently to the environment they live in. Current methods of assessing welfare consider management and housing practices as good indicators of welfare, despite the increasing emphasis on direct animal indicators (so-called animal-based measures).
Animal-based measures require direct observation of the animal and reflect the animal’s actual response (i.e., welfare consequences) to housing and management practices. As the animal is at the heart of this evaluation method, it applies to all types of farming systems and practices, whether conventional, extensive or intensive.
The scientific community increasingly recommends the use of animal-based measures for the assessment and monitoring of animal welfare. It would be extremely important that these recommendations are fully adopted by the ongoing EU legislative review on animal welfare as well as in private animal welfare standards in order to improve the quality of life of farmed animals. .
To help farmers self-assess animal welfare on their farms, the Ppilow project has developed the PIGLOW app for pig welfare and the EBENE app for poultry welfare. These two tools are available to farmers, veterinarians and technicians to assess the animal welfare of pigs, cows, hens and chickens.
The applications are free and structured around a short series of questions about farm management and animal behavior during testing.
The EBENE poultry app focuses on animal-based indicators, covering, like the PIGLOW app, the four welfare quality principles of good food, good health, good housing and appropriate behavior . During the step-by-step assessment (which takes about an hour and requires no internet connection), the app provides helpful information and images that guide the farmer through the process. After completing the welfare assessment with the app and uploading the responses, farmers can immediately view their results on the app via a radar chart.
When using the app multiple times, all results are visible and allow farmers to see if a score has improved since the previous assessment. For each well-being indicator, the results have a set of automated feedback, with risk factors that explain a possible low score.
“When creating these apps, the developers tell us, technicians favored animal-based metrics because these are supposed to be more directly related to the actual welfare of the animal than animal-based metrics. They discussed the list of indicators with national groups of practitioners in 6 European countries, including representatives of feed producers, consumer associations, retailers, veterinarians, processors and farmers.
They were asked for their opinion on the importance, feasibility and definition of the indicators. Following the refinement of the indicators based on these discussions, prototype applications were tested for their understandability and user-friendliness by pig and poultry farmers in Belgium and France. We used feedback from farmers regarding, for example, feasibility, usability and wording of questions to produce the final apps.”
These solutions allow you to have an objective view of animal welfare on the farm, with simple and concrete questions you can give a score and see the improvements over time. Additionally, the final assessment is a resource for understanding where there are weaknesses and where to work to improve. For example, there may be a gap in pasture management and diversity of living environment, while on the other hand nothing major to correct. Positive competition stimulates producers to reach new levels of welfare.
For those interested, the PIGLOW app for pigs is available in Italian, English and French and can be downloaded here.
The EBENE® app is available free of charge in three languages (English, French, Dutch) and in other languages and can be downloaded here.
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