November 25, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: General


Definitions: Concerns: Issues
By Clive Dalton

What is animal behaviour?
  • Everybody is interested in animal behaviour is because of TV wildlife films.
  • Animal behaviour studies what animals do, but also the how, why, where and when they do it.
  • The "why" is probably the most important question as this is the information you need to solve problems. The fancy name for animal behaviour is animal ethology.
  • Animal behaviour is very much bound up with "animal welfare" and we study behaviour problems to improve welfare.
  • The behaviour of animals in practice is seen by humans as either:
  • Appropriate or inappropriate
  • Acceptable or unacceptable
  • Normal or abnormal
But this depends on the circumstances so always look at the context - the big picture.

Why is animal behaviour important?
  • Every animal production problem has a very large animal behaviour component, and behaviour problems have a large impact on animal production and hence profit.
  • Animal behaviour has big implications for our export trading and animal welfare issues can be used as indirect tariffs against New Zealand.
  • And always be aware of the effect humans and their behaviour has on animal behaviour and vice versa.
What is animal welfare?
Animal welfare is concerned with suffering and satisfaction during the animal's life. There are three reasons for concern about animal welfare:
  • Respect for animals and sense of fair play.
  • Poor welfare leading to poor product quality.
  • Risk to markets where poor products leave a poor product image.
The four "I‘s" of animal suffering
There are four situations where humans are directly responsible for animal suffering -called the four "Is":
  • Ignorance - not knowing what to do or claiming this in defence.
  • Inexperience - knowing what to do, but not knowing how to do it.
  • Incompetence - inability to do it.
  • Inconsideration - not caring.
(From Gregory, N (1988). Animal Welfare and Meat Science, CAB 1998).

Who is concerned with animal behaviour and welfare?
This is an important question, as most people would reply to it by suggesting only farmers and veterinarians who make their livings from farm livestock are concerned.

But there are many more as shown in the list below - which is open for your further additions:
Veterinarians - they make their living from animals and their ethical code is to care for them under the law.
  • Farmers - they make their living from them too, again under the law.
  • Scientists - the study of ethology for academic and practical reasons.
  • RSPCA - Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
  • Government ministries - Agriculture, Environment and Forestry.
  • ACVM - Agricultural Compounds & Veterinary Medicines Board.
  • ILHP - International League for the Horse Protection.
  • SAFE - Save Animals from Exploitation.
  • ALF - Animal Liberation Front.
  • Environmental Risk Management Agencies.
  • DOC - Departments of Conservation.
  • WSPA -World Society for Protection of Animals.
  • Cat Protection League.
  • Humane Society.
  • PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
  • The Cow Protection League.
  • Greenpeace.
  • Politicians - responding to constituents and developing and modifying the law.
  • District and Regional Councils - mainly pest control.
  • Antivivisectionists.
  • Vegetarians and Vegans.
  • Various religions.
  • The general public - "Society"!
  • The media - animal stories make good copy.
  • THE ANIMAL itself! Note that it's usually the last to be remembered and needs to be the first entry on the list.
What issues concern the public or society in New Zealand?
  • The "public" or "society" are very difficult describe, especially to farmers who get annoyed about too much interference in their business.
  • But vague or not, the public and society have enormous power through their organisations and by simply refusing to buy animal products.
NZ Issues
The issues of concern vary depending a lot on what has just been aired in the media. Here are some that occur regularly:
  • Direct cruelty and any flouting the law.
  • Intensive or factory farming - especially of pigs, battery hens and broiler chickens.
  • Extensive farming issues where lambs die in late snow storms.
  • Hormones, growth stimulants and antibiotics fed to animals.
  • Transport of animals, especially live exports of sheep.
  • Rodeo and circus animals used in entertainment.
  • Slaughter of livestock.
  • Zoos
  • Animals used in research and teaching.
What issues concern the public?
  • It's interesting and important to be aware of these as UK is a major market for our animal products and any rules they set for themselves can easily be made mandatory for countries exporting to them.
  • These issues inevitably play a major role in setting the standards of farm animal welfare:
  • Declining profitability of livestock farming.
  • EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) reform and world Free Trade agreements. Increasing bureaucracy in all countries.
  • The power of retailers - e.g. large supermarket chains squeezing prices paid to farmers.
  • Backyard farmers threatening good husbandry standards.
  • Commodity versus niche producers.
  • An ageing agricultural workforce and young people not going into farming.
  • Growth of meat production in developing countries (with doubtful welfare standards) that could be imported into developed markets with high standards.
  • The OIE (colloquially known as the World Organisation for Animal Health has become the de facto international reference organisation for animal protection and is developing a global framework of guidelines for animal welfare.
  • The EU is currently pressing for animal welfare issues to be discussed in the current discussions in the WTO negotiations.
Topical issues include:
  • Proposals for EU directives on broilers and laying hens.
  • OIE guidelines for animal welfare.
  • Council of Europe decree that farm animals are sentient beings.
  • New animal welfare bills for Scotland, England and Wales.
  • EU Action plan on animal welfare.

Current public interest issues
The public's interest in animal welfare issues has increased in recent years and shows no signs of abating.
Current drivers of this interest include:
  • Active lobby groups on different issues.
  • Increasing levels of disposable income in UK society.
  • Growing awareness of animal welfare issues among some consumers.
  • Remoteness of consumers from farming and food production.
  • A perceived lack of public confidence in science.
  • Interest among consumers (and producers) of getting welfare information on food labels.

What European consumers believe and want (2007)
  • 67% believe the level of welfare protection of farm animals is poor or very poor.
  • 78% believe more needs to be done to improve welfare.
  • Chickens, laying hens, turkeys and pigs have the most public welfare concerns.
  • 76% believe that food retailers don't provide enough information on welfare standards from which the products were sourced.
  • 85% would like products to have better labels to denote the animal welfare conditions.
  • 93% believed that imported foods should be produced under welfare conditions at least as high as in UK. (Big implications from NZ).
  • 76% believed that better knowledge of farming practices could influence food purchasing decisions.

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