Do we talk enough about welfare?

By Reuben Newsome

March 1, 2020

Recently I was invited to speak about lameness and welfare at the “International Hoof Health and Welfare Conference” in Spain. Twenty-six countries were present, from Canada to Japan, and it made me realise how the UK are world leading in this area. Indeed, we have been for some time and must be proud of it. Where to start?

The 5 Freedoms were developed from a 1965 UK Government report into the welfare of farm animals. Their wording has truly stood the test of time and, whilst they don’t encompass every aspect of welfare, they are a good start and still underpin our animal welfare laws today. Assurance schemes such as Red Tractor, and further some of the aligned contracts, continue to build on them.

They are all measurable and some are strikingly relevant to lameness. First, “Freedom from pain, injury or disease, by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment”; we have repeatedly discussed these exact words in recent years in reference to lameness. Second, “Freedom from discomfort, by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area”; with cow comfort and lying times being key in the sole ulcer disease process, this is clearly directly applicable to lameness. Third, “Freedom from fear and distress, by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering”. Without getting too technical, pain is inextricably linked with emotions, and persisting pain leads rapidly to mental suffering; having good mobility helps satisfy this freedom, too.

Agriculture is under ever-increasing scrutiny in the public eye. Misinformation and bad press are rife, often presenting obstacles and inconveniences. Yet, focusses on animal welfare also provide opportunities for us as animal health care professionals. If welfare requirements continue to improve, whether through legislation or public pressure, opportunities for well-trained and up-to-date professionals will keep opening. So be proud of the industry we work in, the healthy food that we help produce and the welfare of animals that we can ensure. And consider how we may guide the narrative on animal welfare, illustrating the great work that is being done.

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