Advancing animal welfare to meet sustainability targets
Sustainability is considered to be composed of three conceptual pillars: economic, social and environmental. Farming systems are under pressure to reduce their environmental impact, but must remain economically viable and be socially acceptable. There are growing societal demands for animal production systems to be more sustainable, safeguarding both the environment and the welfare of animals. We need to produce animal-sourced food with improved animal welfare and less environmental impact. The Farm to Fork initiative and the One Health ambition recognise that there is a need to improve farmed animal welfare, which in turn will lead to an improvement in animal health, reducing the need for medication, helping to preserve biodiversity and raising the quality of food. However, it is not yet known how to deliver sustainable food animal production systems, nor how to measure progress towards this goal and what compromises might have to be made along the way. In this session, we will examine the relationship between animal welfare and sustainability in the various animal husbandry systems, describing challenges and potential solutions. Also, we will consider sustainability assessment tools that have been developed to gain insight into the sustainability performance of animal husbandry systems, including animal welfare, with a view to assessing their potential future role in regulatory science.
Sustainability is considered to be composed of three conceptual pillars: economic, social and environmental. Therefore, for animal husbandry systems to qualify as sustainable, they should be profitable for producers, acceptable to society at large and not harmful to the environment. Both the Farm to Fork initiative and the One Health concept recognise the importance of improving the welfare of farmed animals for better animal health, higher food quality, reduced antimicrobial resistance and improved preservation of biodiversity. Improvements to the living conditions of livestock however do not necessarily result in positive environmental impacts or vice versa. Citizens are demanding changes, for example, with the “End the cage age” citizens’ initiative that seeks to end the current practice of keeping livestock in cages, crates and individual pens. Current policies and initiatives recognise this by underlining that in order to be socially acceptable, future livestock production systems will have to improve the welfare of animals. Various on farm welfare assessment tools have been developed with a view to ensuring the three pillars of sustainability are upheld, and which could be used in the future to regulate the production of animal-based foods.
Background – Challenges and opportunities
According to the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security, a sustainable food system can be defined as "a food system that delivers food security and nutrition for all in such a way that the economic, social and environmental bases to generate food security and nutrition for future generations are not compromised". Farming systems are under pressure to reduce their environmental impact, but must remain economically viable, be socially acceptable and not harm the environment. We need to produce animal-sourced food in a way that ensures higher animal welfare and protects our environment.We must also become less dependent on pesticides, fertilizers and antimicrobials, and reverse biodiversity loss. Indeed, better animal welfare improves animal health and food quality, reduces the need for medication, and thereby the threat of antimicrobial resistance, and can help preserve biodiversity.
Citizens are demanding changes: the End the cage age citizens’ initiative is calling for the end of cages, crates and individual pens in animal husbandry systems. Similarly, the European Council, in 2019, emphasised that good animal welfare is an integral part of sustainable animal production and stressed the need to improve the welfare of animals in the context of the transport of farm animals. Also in 2019, the European Parliament said animals should be slaughtered at the nearest possible slaughter facility, thus limiting the need for animal transport and reducing environmental impact. The European Commission, in turn, has started an evaluation of the legislation covering the welfare of animals kept for farming purposes to include laying hens, calves, pigs, chickens kept for meat production, animals during transport and at the time of killing.
In addition, the European Economic and Social Committee has called on the European Commission and Member States “to develop a clear EU policy and implementation plan for building a sustainable, resilient, healthy, fair and climate-friendly food system, which encourages cooperation and mutual understanding among all stakeholders along the food supply chain. Better coherence and integration of food-related policy objectives and instruments (e.g. on agriculture, environment, health, climate, employment, etc.) must be ensured taking into account the three pillars of sustainability”.
Sustainability assessment tools have been developed to gain insight into the sustainability performance of animal husbandry systems including animal welfare. The assessment results could potentially be used by risk managers, risk assessors and farmers themselves to assess performance and progress. However, the validity and reliability of such sustainability assessment tools has been uncertain to date. On farm welfare assessment tools may be implemented in the future however as a constituent component of regulatory science to regulate food animal production with a view to ensuring the three pillars of sustainability are upheld.
We have an opportunity to implement changes regarding both animal welfare and the sustainability of animal husbandry systems for all farmed animal species. The next step is to explore what changes are needed and how to measure progress towards sustainability.
Scope and objectives
The thematic session will investigate the relationship between animal welfare, in all food animal production systems, and the three pillars of sustainability (economic, social and environmental) with a view to identifying challenges and potential solutions for animal farming, thus helping us move towards a more sustainable production of food from animals.
More specifically, the thematic session aims to explore:
- The impact of animal welfare on the 3 pillars of sustainability (economic, social and environmental), and vice versa, as well as the challenges and potential solutions for each sector.
- Sustainability assessment tools, including their validity, that have been developed to gain insight into the sustainability performance of animal husbandry systems including animal welfare.
Opening and welcome
Mette S. Herskin, Aarhus University
Part I - Advancing animal welfare
Improving animal welfare can deliver triple sustainability win
Peter Stevenson, Compassion in World Farming
Animal welfare: Moving forward to help score sustainable development goals
Linda Keeling, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)
Understanding synergies and trade-offs in sustainability outcomes in food animal production
Laura Higham, University of Edinburgh
Public perceptions of animal husbandry and welfare: how to respond properly?
Gesa Busch, University of Göttingen
Animal welfare in a circular food system
Eddie Bokkers, Wageningen University and Research (WUR)
Benefits (and challenges) of digital transformation of livestock agriculture for animal welfare and environmental sustainability
Pol Llonch, Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)
Sustainable livestock systems: integrating the provision of environmental services and animal welfare measurements
Francisco Galindo, National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
Key stages in the implementation of the PATHWAYS project
Harry Blokhuis, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU)
Part II - Moderated panel discussion
Wrap up and concluding remarks
Mette S. Herskin, Aarhus University