Developing A Welfare Index For Pigs At Slaughter
Recent years have seen an increase in public concern over the welfare of farmed animals; as a result, more and more regulations govern the welfare of animals on the farm and even in the slaughterhouse. However, aside from stunning, “the day of slaughter involves a series of potential animal welfare threatening elements” for all kinds of farmed animals. At present time, there’s no easy way to measure and assess the welfare of animals on their way to, and on the day of, slaughter. Since the day of slaughter is currently a blind spot in the overall monitoring of welfare, researchers wanted to develop “an aggregated animal welfare assessment” for pigs on the entire day of slaughter, as well as a welfare index within different stages (pick-up, loading, transport as well as unloading, lairage, and race to the stunning chamber). The idea is to develop an overall welfare score made up of the weighted individual scores from each stage.
To develop and test this, the researchers first convened an expert panel (via online questionnaire) that would provide the aggregate weights for welfare measurements at different stages. Two dozen experts from the veterinary or animal care side of the industry in Denmark were surveyed as well as 15 supplemental respondents from other parts of the industry. The resulting animal welfare index (AWI) was then applied to 45 pigs going through each of the six stages. According to the researchers’ formula, “the index can take on values from 0% to 100%, and the higher the index, the more severe the welfare consequences.” Interestingly, another aspect of the study included a measurement of the heart rates of the pigs through a chest strap, though any attempt to correlate the welfare index with heart rates was inconclusive or not useful. The researchers explain this by noting that “the animal welfare index covers much more than acute stress responses, this result is not surprising.” Overall, however, they found that though the AWI they developed requires further validation, it has the potential to accurately and quickly assess welfare at all stages of slaughter, and can be used to compare different herds, trucks, and slaughterhouses.
For animal advocates, studies into welfare at slaughter are a mixed bag, but being able to have data on how good —or bad —welfare is at any given stage of an animal’s life can be used in advocacy in various ways. Animal advocates will need to keep an eye out for results of actual welfare measurements, and decide how to employ the data in their own ways.