New guidance outlining a pioneering new approach for farm assurance schemes, retailers and farmers to improve animal welfare has been released following a six-year project with the Soil Association, RSPCA and University of Bristol.
The new “AssureWel” manual shifts the way assurance schemes look at welfare by focusing on the individual animal and looking at “welfare outcomes” resulting from conditions animals are kept in, such as their physical health and behaviour.
Last week, leading foodservice companies launched the Global Coalition on Animal Welfare – the initiative will feature in Monday’s Footprint premium bulletin.
The AssureWel manual provides a framework designed specifically for use during a farm assurance scheme audit, which traditionally would only have assessed the “inputs”, such as diet and how much space each animal is given, without guidance for assessing how effective those resources and management are at directly providing a good level of welfare for the individual animals.
Examples of the measures developed include assessing feather loss on laying hens, injuries, body condition and lameness on dairy cows, how pigs are using enrichment items provided such as straw and destructible toys, as well as levels of mortality and their causes.
For instance, organic is always free range, setting strict limits for flock or herd size. However, the manual provides extra guidance to make sure these standards are achieving the aim of minimising stress and supporting resilient health in the animals along with protecting them from harm.
The protocols are being used by Soil Association Certification and RSPCA Assured. A number of other schemes, such as Red Tractor, Global Animal Partnership and Animal Welfare Approved also use or recommend their use.
“We want to ensure that all farm animals have the opportunity for a good life, and the only way of properly checking that the resources provided combined with the quality of day-to-day husbandry is delivering this, is to directly assess the condition of the animals, rather than the method of production alone,” said Kate Still, livestock advisor at the Soil Association.