Creating A Model For International Comparisons Of Animal Welfare
In the last several decades, farmed animal welfare has emerged as a driving force in agriculture reform around the world. Many countries have developed regulations that make different combinations of legislation and market-driven initiatives; because of these differences, it’s still difficult to assess farm animal welfare on a national and international level. In this paper, scientists created a benchmarking tool to help define and assess a number of welfare dimensions to compare farmed animal welfare across different countries.
The researchers consulted with five animal welfare experts to assess the effects of different living conditions on the well-being of pigs. The selected countries (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the U.K.) all varied in terms of pig production, consumption, import and export of pork, national legislation, and market-driven animal welfare.
The researchers began by defining each pig welfare initiative in the five respective countries, including their gradings, and a number of welfare-dimensions (rooting material, practice for weaning, space etc.). These dimensions were then evaluated by a group of animal welfare experts using different scales and measures. By using this approach, the authors sought to create a benchmark with a relationship to industry standards and practices.
The analysis found that Denmark and Germany’s pig production standards were slightly higher than the E.U. requirements, while the ones in the Netherlands were a little better than those. The U.K. and Sweden’s standards were much higher. However, it’s notable that the benchmark scores were different when it came to pig consumption. Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands showed higher benchmark scores in pig consumption than in production, whereas the U.K. and Sweden showed the opposite. This was explainable due to Sweden and the U.K.’s imports for local consumption, which were from countries with lower pig welfare standards. In addition, Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands had a large export sector and their national markets consisted of products with animal welfare labels.
While this benchmark model seems to be able to make interesting comparisons, we also have to take the limitations of the tool into account. By relying on the opinions of animal welfare experts who graded welfare dimensions, the benchmark is very subjective. Furthermore, the selected welfare dimensions and gradings didn’t cover every animal welfare initiative completely, so the authors had to make subjective choices. Other limitations include some uncertainty about the information used, the implementations of certain requirements (e.g. provision of rooting material), and the lack of outcome-based measures.
Nevertheless, the model still represents a useful tool that could be extended to include other countries and species. In addition, the benchmark could analyze animal welfare over time and provide some standardization of the measures.
As animal advocates, we need to have clear overviews of animal welfare in order to hold involved parties accountable and make the most effective campaigns we can. The benchmark sheds light on how such a complex, pluralistic system can be compared, and papers like this will hopefully get international recognition and inspire further scholarship in the field of animal welfare measurement.