Animal Welfare Priorities In The U.K.
Determining which animal welfare issues are most important to address is a fundamental part of improving the lives of farmed animals in an effective manner. However, there is still much debate on which are the most pressing issues, even among experts. This study, published in Veterinary Record, aims to determine the welfare priorities for the most common farmed and companion animals in the U.K. by expert consensus.
The authors of the study recruited 117 experts from a broad range of disciplines, including practising veterinarians, academics, charity sector employees, industry representatives, and policy officials. The experts were divided into eight species groups: cats, dogs, horses, rabbits, cows, chickens, pigs, and small ruminants.
First, a list of welfare issues was generated for each species by either discussion boards or literature review. Then, the experts’ opinions were collected through two rounds of online surveys. They agreed that welfare issues should be ranked considering three categories: severity, duration, and perceived prevalence using a 6-point Likert scale, where 1=never/none and 6=always/high. A final round of in-person workshops was held with a smaller group of experts, resulting in a list of top-ranking welfare issues per species group. The experts also agreed on a list of 11 overarching areas of animal welfare concern relevant to all managed species in the United Kingdom. These themes are listed as follows, unranked:
- Lack of knowledge about the care of the species.
- Social behavior issues.
- Problem behavior issues.
- Breeding decisions.
- Lack of health/veterinary care.
- Poor recognition and treatment of pain.
- Delayed euthanasia.
- Inappropriate diet.
- Chronic/endemic health issues.
- Lack of appropriate environment.
- Neonatal morbidity/mortality (farmed animals only).
In companion animals, behavioral issues were considered important in all species. Lack of socialization and inadequate guardian knowledge of behavior was also of high concern. Other concerns were obesity and nutrition, delayed euthanasia for elderly or suffering companion animals, genetic issues as a result of breeding practices, and issues with training and animal use.
In farmed animals, of high concern was behavior restriction and ability to express social behavior in pigs, chickens, goats and cows. The impact of breeding decisions was scored highest for the welfare of chickens. Other concerns that scored high were the inability to identify and manage pain, the general health of farmed animals, delayed euthanasia of suffering and dying animals, as well as the methods used for killing, in particular, unwanted male animals. The welfare of animals in transport was of high priority in chickens, sheep, and cows.
In general, the main concern in animal welfare was lack of knowledge about the needs of the species, as well as the inability to recognize and manage pain and poor skills in animal handling and management.
The authors of the study hope that the results of the survey will help guide future research, funding and education priority decisions. Since the survey involved a broad range of stakeholders who likely balanced out the findings, it provides animal advocates with a framework for issues that can be reliably prioritized in welfare advocacy efforts, and be relatively certain of having an impact.