Author Topic: Welfare researchers seek to give animals 'good lives' 27.2.2013  (Read 1391 times)

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Welfare researchers seek to give animals 'good lives' 27.2.2013
« Reply #1 on: February 27, 2013, 09:35:29 PM »
Welfare researchers seek to give animals 'good lives' By Anna Vidot
 Wednesday, 27/02/2013
The focus in animal welfare is shifting from solving problems to giving animals 'a good life'.
Experts have told an RSPCA seminar in Canberra their understanding of what makes animals happy, and how that can be measured, is improving all the time.
And they say that an animal's happiness, like good nutrition, will eventually be considered an essential part of good livestock management.
David Mellor is a director of the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre at New Zealand's Massey University. He's worked in welfare field for decades on both sides of the Tasman and the UK.
He says many of the livestock welfare issues that were huge problems decades ago have already been solved, as scientists and farmers developed a better understanding of what animals need to keep them healthy and safe, and that's bringing about an evolution in what 'good welfare' actually means.
Increasingly, it's an animal's happiness that's the issue: how to give livestock positive life experiences, like chances to explore, forage and interact.
Professor Mellor acknowledges that many farmers will hear that and be worried about the prospect of these emerging concepts of welfare being forced onto their production systems.
But he says farmers shouldn't panic; that this is a process of evolution, not revolution, and one in which farmers will be closely involved, just as they were in solving problems with poor animal nutrition, and suffering through disease, that were significant issues for livestock industries in previous decades.
Professor Mellor says giving animals happier lives needn't necessarily be a costly exercise, and could involve things like improving the foraging experience for livestock, by varying the type of feed and the way animals are fed. Similarly, giving social animals the opportunity to interact with each other, and young animals the opportunity to play, where appropriate, could also come to form part of good welfare management over time.
While it's the scientific community's understanding of the happiness of animals that's driving this shift in thinking, it's clear that consumers are also increasingly concerned that farm animals should live actively happy lives.
James Yeates, the chief veterinary officer for the RSPCA in Britain, believes happy animals shouldn't make livestock production unaffordable, and says there's evidence to show that happy animals can have production benefits for farmers.
"Of course, especially in difficult times, farmers are concerned about the bottom line, they've got to make sure that the farm is sustainable," he said.
"But very few farmers that I've ever met are concerned only about the bottom line; there's the financial bottom line, but it's also about having a viable, flourishing farm, with a successful herd and part of the rural fabric, and the happiness of animals can very much form part of that."
Just as a perfect life is usually not possible for humans, Dr Yeates says it's probably impossible to reduce animal suffering to zero, but it's about achieving an acceptable balance.
"Veterinary treatment is an obvious example: you're going to cause some pain, but you're hoping it provides benefits.
"It's absolutely not about reducing suffering to zero. It's about striking that balanace, as one idea, and then a separate idea is about minimising suffering.
"So, for example, if you do transport animals, making sure that one doesit with the minimum of suffering."
Dr Yeates acknowledges that selling that balance to a consumer can be difficult, but he says an emphasis on providing a happy life for animals would give livestock industries an opportunity to say, 'look, what we're doing here is a win-win'.
"The animals have an enjoyable, happy life, the farmers are an important part of the rural community, and the consumers get to eat meat that they enjoy.
"I think there is something there [to communicate to consumers], we have to simplify it and make sure it's a key message, but I think it's a much more positive message than saying 'we've minimised the harms as much as we can'."