Putting livestock welfare at the top of our agenda for 2021

In this issue, we look at new research that examines the cost-benefit argument of livestock welfare and the practical tools that could help businesses make decisions around farm animal welfare.

We also look at two cutting-edge technologies that hold the promise of innovative, low-cost solutions to quickly improve the welfare of livestock worldwide.

And finally, our quick-read infographic showcases the benefits of maintaining livestock wellbeing, both for the animals themselves and the human population.

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Animal welfare has rapidly moved up the consumer agenda in recent years:

  • The latest Eurobarometer survey from the European Union found that many view welfare as a key component for sustainability.
  • 2016 survey showed 78% of UK citizens place high importance on the welfare of farmed animals.
  • Although consumer attitudes around how to address the issue differ, all analysis shows it’s of fundamental importance to their views of production.
This spotlight has confirmed what many in agriculture already believed - proper welfare must be at the foundation of our food system.

Good welfare delivers positive, tangible benefits:
  • Reduces the need for antibiotics: Vaccinated animals that regularly see a veterinarian and receive proper care will be far less susceptible to bacterial infection, reducing the need for antibiotics in their lifetime.
  • Lowers GHG emissions: In 2019 alone, African Swine Fever led to 45 million tons of wasted GHG emissions. Strengthening health and preventing disease reduces the environmental footprint of farming.
  • Enhances productivity – Stressed and/or sick animals will produce less in their lifetime. Protecting health is simply good business.
Better animal welfare is strongly linked to food sustainability and reductions in the impact of farming on the environment. Yet, such benefits can also come with costs, which may include:
  • Major one-time outlays for changes to infrastructure
  • Staff training and fees associated with new practices
  • Ongoing costs linked to these changes, such as slower weight gain or increased time for routine handling

However, with public interest in animal welfare and food production growing, doing nothing is not a viable option for the long-term sustainability of farming.

But help is at hand. Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia have created a decision tool to assist businesses facing the dilemma of which practices to change in order to improve farm animal welfare without adversely affecting their profitability.

To read the full paper, “Costs and Benefits of Improving Farm Animal Welfare”, follow the link here and to learn more about how better health and welfare can reduce antibiotic need, dig into our Roadmap.

What’s happened: Smart farming has come a long way in a short time. The concept of managing farms better through technology and artificial intelligence has seen sensors, software, robotics and connectivity installed in farms across the world.

Why it matters: From monitoring the needs of individual animals to adjust their nutrition, to the use of wireless applications to monitor the location, well-being, and health of cattle, technology is improving animal welfare in an ever-growing number of ways.

How it is being done:
  • In China, the world’s largest exporter of pork, farmers are turning to AI and facial recognition technology to continuously monitor the health of their herds. As pigs faces are as different from one another as human faces, the tech can identify individual animals and then constantly track their pulse and sweat rates, as well listen to their coughs.
  • A farm in Guangxi province showed that, not only did the technology slash costs and cut down breeding time, but it has also improved welfare outcomes for the pigs.
  • AI technology from of the University of Wageningen used sensors and cloud computing to slash antibiotic treatments 73% in a two-year trial by spotting disease early and then quickly implementing treatment.
Dig Deeper: Finally, keep an eye out for the upcoming publication of our report entitled ‘New Frontiers in Animal Care: The Innovations Shaping the Future’, which will be available to download from our website. Contact to receive a copy at launch.
“[Digital] technologies and new methods can enhance performance for monitoring and controlling animal disease, managing food safety and fraud risks, complying with animal production and food standards, facilitating trade and raising consumer awareness.”

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2020
The global cattle population amounted to about 989 million head in 2019
Whilst good health of farm animals can significantly improve their quality of life, better welfare can also lead to other benefits for both the livestock and the human population. Our shareable infographic below details these advantages.
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