August 26, 2019

Addressing Animal Welfare

How do we address animal welfare?

4 take-aways from Boehringer Ingelheim’s recent Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-Being

From June 6 to 8, more than 100 delegates from 17 countries gathered in Prague for Boehringer Ingelheim’s 12th Expert Forum on Farm Animal Well-Being. The forum focused on a central question: Do consumers and citizens want the same thing?

As experts explained, many people have expressed a desire to buy more “high welfare” animal products, but there are questions for how that desire translates to sales. Meanwhile, producers, veterinarians, and animal scientists are working to improve welfare as a way to advance animal health and food chain sustainability.

Four major themes from the forum:

  1. Individual "citizens” are shaping farm programs. There’s been a “citizen shift” in how many individuals are choosing to influence food supply chains, and more individuals say they are willing to spend a premium on what they perceive as higher animal welfare. Farm assurance programs can help meet these expectations.
  2. Consumer wishes don’t necessarily translate to sales. Researchers have found that citizen movements are not in sync with what people actually buy. As Dr. Lynn Frewer of Newcastle University explained, “Concerns associated with farm animal welfare and production may not correspond to purchase and consumption practices, with sales of welfare friendly products much lower than the reported levels of concern. This suggests a discrepancy between an individual’s role as a citizen and as a consumer, such that citizens and consumers have different concerns in different contexts.”
  3. Animal scientists can guide the conversation. Researcher Marianne Villettaz Robichaud, an animal scientist at the University of Montreal, shared the latest data on lying time and cow comfort. Xavier Manteca of the Autonomous University of Barcelona presented research linking antimicrobial resistance and animal welfare. This kind of animal well-being and health research has proven crucial in developing animal welfare strategy.
  4. More collaboration will help. Experts agreed that one practical way to improve animal welfare is for producers to work more closely with veterinarians. Vets can assess whether animals may be in pain, for example, though the University of Guelph’s Charlotte Winder explained, “It’s essential to remember that animals with the absence of pain may not have good welfare.” Collaboration can also help ensure that farm animals’ well-being is balanced with the need for a sustainable supply chain.